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Afghanistan: Karzai To Meet Afghan Ex-King

Rome, 18 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hamid Karzai, the designated head of Afghanistan's incoming interim government, has arrived in Rome, Italy for a meeting today with exiled former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah. Karzai and the ex-king, both ethnic Pashtuns, are expected to discuss issues surrounding the six-month interim administration that Karzai is due to lead beginning this Saturday, 22 December.

Karzai told reporters he believes that an international security force will have deployed in Kabul before his government takes office. He gave no further details.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain was prepared to contribute up to 1,500 troops to the multinational security force. However, other details about the size, composition, and role of the force remain to be worked out. The force, which will initially be concentrated around Kabul, is part of the United Nations-backed peace deal signed in Germany earlier in December which cleared the way for the new post-Taliban administration.

Separately, the women's affairs minister in Afghanistan's incoming interim government has asked U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that a female American ambassador be named to Kabul. Sima Samar said she is also seeking to have women included in the international security force for Afghanistan. Samar, a physician, spoke in Washington following talks with Powell at the State Department.

She said the presence of female diplomats and soldiers in Afghanistan would help Afghan women gain confidence and rights under the new government. She said Powell told her he could not promise about an American woman ambassador to Kabul, but that he said the U.S. embassy team would include women.

Samar said her priority in the new government is to establish shelters and trauma centers for Afghan women, especially those without families. Samar is one of two women named for the six-month transitional Afghan cabinet.

Reports from Tora Bora say U.S.-backed Afghan fighters are continuing their search for prime terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda fighters around Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.

The Pakistani-based Afghan Islamic Press reports six Al-Qaeda fighters were caught early today in the area of Tora Bora. A spokesman for Afghan commander Haji Mohammad Zaman Zainullah said their forces had captured 40 Al-Qaeda fighters so far. He said they will be handed over to the interim Afghan government set to take power in Kabul on 22 December and not to any foreign country.

DPA reports U.S. and British special forces are also combing the Tora Bora cave complex searching for Al-Qaeda fighters and bin Laden, who Washington accuses of masterminding the 11 September strikes on the U.S. Washington had said it believed bin-Laden was in the region of Tora Bora. But yesterday, the Pentagon said it is "anybody's guess" where he is now.