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Afghans Wary of US Purpose, Begin to Get Ready for Warfare

By John Murphy
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- CHAMAN, Pakistan

If the United States has been successfully destroyed Al-Qaida terrorist training camps and crippling airfields, it appears to have failed in its public relations efforts to win the trust of the Afghan people. After five days of bombings, Afghans crossing into Pakistan here from Kandahar and other cities seem to be gearing up for a war that has never been declared against them.

“We don’t believe what America says. From the very beginning, America seems to be the enemy of Islam,” 32- year old Gul Mohammad said at this border crossing in western Pakistan, about a two-hour drive from Kandahar. “All the Afghans are very angry.”

They are burning the humanitarian food aid dropped by U.S. forces. Men are encouraging wives and daughters to train for battle. And many Afghans appear to relish the thought of entering a ground war with U.S. troops, who they hope to defeat as they did Soviet Union and British armies in the past.

Afghans’ comments at the border mimicked those of the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. During a news conference Thursday, the ambassador was asked about the possible deployment of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. He replied: “When the Americans enter Afghanistan, here will start the real war -- not now.”

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher this week said that Voice of America is expanding its broadcasts aimed at Afghanistan, hoping to persuade the population that the U.S.-led military campaign is meant for terrorists only. The Embassy of Pakistan is also making more material available to the news mediain Pakistan, where fundamentalist Islamic groups are threatening more anti-American protests.

But it is difficult to convince the Afghan population of America’s intentions. The United States’ humanitarian gesture of dropping more than 100,000 daily rations inside Afghanistan’s needy areas may be backfiring.

“Whatever aid America has given us through air we just set it on fire,” said Mujahid Habid Ullah, 24, who had just arrived in Chaman from Kandahar. “The Taliban collected them all and set them on fire. We don’t need aid. Leave us -- we want to grow our own wheat. We want to have our own food.”

Many Afghans complained of the suffering of their friends, neighbors and relatives, who are trying to survive outside the city of Khandar, now half abandoned.

Each night in Kandahar, residents have kept their nerve when the bombs start falling, said Sullah.

“Believe me, when they come at nighttime to strike all the Afghanis say, ‘Welcome! Welcome! They are giving us bombs again. We are happy.’ It’s very sad that we don’t have anything to hit the planes, but we are ready for the land war,” he said.