- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

From combined dispatches
BAGRAM, Afghanistan Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai received a welcome of rock and country music yesterday as he paid his first visit to international troops hunting al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.
Hundreds of soldiers from coalition countries from Australia to Poland applauded as Mr. Karzai said they had "helped Afghanistan free itself once again." Many took photos with disposable cameras as the interim leader made his way around the hangar at Bagram air base, a former Soviet facility.
Security was extremely tight, with checkpoints along the main road through the base and soldiers in force at the air strip where Mr. Karzai landed in a Chinook helicopter with an entourage of at least three dozen senior Afghan officers, civilian officials and armed guards.
The visit was something of a spectacle at this base outside Kabul, where about 4,000 troops operate attack missions on al Qaeda and Taliban forces blamed for terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.
Dressed in a striped overcoat and traditional Afghan hat, Mr. Karzai greeted a line of coalition soldiers and Afghan officials at the air strip before moving to a row of A-10 "Warthog" aircraft to chat with a pilot about the capabilities of the U.S. tank-killers.
Mr. Karzai was welcomed into the hangar, which includes the troops' mess hall and weight room, with music from the contemporary pop group the Dave Matthews Band blaring from speakers.
He made a brief stop at the Spanish field hospital before going into a closed-door meeting with Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Brig. Roger Lane, the head of the 1,700 British Royal Marines due to be operational by mid-April.
As he met the U.S. and British commanders, several patriotic songs about the September 11 attacks on the United States blared from the public address system, including "Where Were You" by U.S. country singer Alan Jackson.
The two-hour visit wrapped up with a speech and a chaotic round of hand-shaking with some of the soldiers in the hangar as scores more stood watch outside in the cold drizzle.
Mr. Karzai said he encouraged the coalition forces to stay in his country for as long as it took to clear Afghanistan of "bad people."
"Go ahead; keep hunting them," he said.


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