- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Eight foreign aid workers, including two Americans, held captive in Afghanistan for three months for preaching Christianity were airlifted to freedom yesterday by U.S. military helicopters.
The Taliban militia had agreed to release the aid workers but left them behind as they fled from Northern Alliance troops, paving the way for their rescue, senior Bush administration officials said.
Three U.S. special forces helicopters picked up the aid workers in a field near Ghazni, about 50 miles southwest of Kabul, at about 4:40 p.m. EST, Pentagon officials said. The aid workers were flown to Pakistan, where some were to be reunited with family, and appeared to be in good health, officials said.
"They're on their way here. I'm happy and I want to get ready to go where they come in," Nancy Cassell, the mother of U.S. aid worker Dayna Curry, said before dawn today local time in Islamabad.
President Bush hailed the dramatic turn of events.
"I'm thankful they're safe, and I'm pleased with our military for conducting this operation," Mr. Bush said at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Mr. Bush had rejected several attempts by the Taliban to use the aid workers as bargaining chips.
The Taliban had agreed to turn over the aid workers through the International Committee of the Red Cross, two senior administration officials said. The Red Cross was going to get them in the hands of U.S. troops. But before the exchange could be accomplished, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance overran Ghazni, prompting the Taliban and the workers' guards to flee.
Mr. Bush said only that the International Red Cross and other "people on the ground facilitated" U.S. troops' ability to rescue the aid workers.
The ruling militia were driven out of Kabul on Tuesday by U.S.-backed rebel forces. The Taliban headed south, taking the aid workers with them. They had been held in cells in a detention center in the Afghan capital.
Mr. Bush said he had been worried that the Taliban might put the aid workers in a house that might be bombed accidentally, and said the U.S. military had been working on plans for a secret rescue if needed.
"We thought of different ways to extricate them from the prison they were in," Mr. Bush said without elaborating.
Mr. Bush said the rescue of the aid workers ended one chapter in the five-week-old U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, but the mission remained to topple the Taliban - already run out of the north by rebels - and rooting out Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
"We still want al-Qaida and want to make sure Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorist activity," Mr. Bush said. "This could take a while and I'm patient and … our military and our troops on the ground are on the hunt until we can accomplish our objectives." At nearby Waco, Texas, at the Antioch Community Church, several people gathered in front of a television set to listen to the news about the two Americans, Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, who are members.
Senior pastor Jimmy Seibert thrust his arms into the air when news aired that the aid workers had been released.
"Thank you, Lord," he shouted. "It is more exciting than we could have imagined. The great thing I learned is that prayer works."
In Nashville, Tenn., Curry's stepmother, Sue Fuller, told a reporter she was elated at her stepdaughter's release.
"I'm so excited that we're going to see her soon and that she's safe," Ms. Fuller said. "I just think you know she trusted that God would take care of her and get her out of there safely, and it's happened."
The eight workers - four Germans, two Americans and two Australians - are employees of the German-based Christian organization Shelter Now International. They have been held since Aug. 3 on charges of trying to convert Muslims, which was a serious offense under the Taliban's harsh Islamic rule.
Taliban Supreme Court judges had indefinitely postponed their trial, saying they feared their anger at the United States over the airstrikes could hamper their ability to make a fair ruling in the case.
Earlier yesterday, the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said he was confident the eight would be released soon.
Seif el-Islam Gadhafi, chairman of the Gadhafi Foundation for Charitable Organizations, told The Associated Press that his nongovernmental organization has been in touch with the Taliban for about two months in efforts to win their freedom.
Although the United States accuses Libya of sponsoring terrorism, and recently extended sanctions against foreign companies suspected of doing business with the North African nation, Washington suspended sanctions against Libya itself in 1999.
The suspension came after Libya handed over two officials for trial on charges of planting the bomb that downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The attack killed 270 people, including 179 Americans.
Mr. Gadhafi's son said his foundation made contact with the Taliban "with the aim of finding a solution for these people through third-party mediation," and that the effort was bearing fruit "because of the good standing the foundation enjoys in this area."
Libya is anxious to improve its standing with the West, and last year, it was involved in freeing all but one of 21 Western tourists and Asian workers kidnapped by rebels in the Philippines.

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