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Taliban Seize District in Southwest Afghanistan

Taliban insurgents seized control of a district in southwestern Afghanistan on Monday as the Afghan police abandoned their post and fled, officials said. The district is the second to fall into Taliban hands this month, and its capture underlines the precarious hold of the government and NATO troops in the remote districts of southern Afghanistan.

The midmorning attack occurred in the Baqwa district of Farah province, where few NATO or Afghan troops are deployed. A small number of U.S. soldiers run a reconstruction team in the provincial capital, but the districts are left to the local police, who lack staff and weapons.

The police in Baqwa town warned their provincial headquarters that the Taliban were advancing in such large numbers they could not hold the district office, according to Baryalai Khan, the secretary to the provincial police chief.

Foreign Minister of Colombia Quits in Scandal

The foreign minister of Colombia resigned Monday as the government of President Alvaro Uribe, the Bush administration’s closest ally in South America, struggled with a scandal that has revealed ties between paramilitary cocaine-trafficking squads and some of Uribe’s most prominent political supporters.

The resignation of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo came just days after Uribe expressed support for her. But fallout from the arrest last week of five politicians including her brother, Sen. Alvaro Araujo, on charges of working with paramilitary squads in a kidnapping case related to the scandal, made her presence in the Cabinet untenable.

Hours after the resignation, the president named Fernando Araujo, who recently escaped after six years in rebel captivity, to replace Maria Araujo. The two are not related.

President Bush, who is scheduled to visit Colombia in March, has stood by Uribe, in part to counter the enhanced regional influence of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Airlines Sharpen Sites For Web-Savvy Traveler

About $170 billion is spent each year on business travel in the United States. Nearly 90 percent of that is “managed” that is, booked by corporate departments — in-house or under contract with a travel management company, or both.

Managed programs have one great advantage: volume. They negotiate significant discounts with specific airlines, hotels and car rental companies in exchange for a guaranteed amount of business.

In such companies, there is pressure for employees to book “within policy.” While this saves the company money, it also limits the control individual employees have over their travel. For example, you may want to earn your elite-status frequent flier miles on American Airlines and stay at a Hilton hotel brand to get your points. But your company may have discount deals with United Airlines and Hyatt, or other combinations.

While some companies offer flexibility, basically you’re out of luck if your needs and the travel department’s don’t mesh. On the other hand, as noted here last week, there is the rapidly growing business-travel market of small companies, independent contractors and others who can’t negotiate volume discounts.