Remote villages survive war without foreign aid

SHOLGARA, Afghanistan -- Unlike some parts of Afghanistan that survive on foreign aid, little-known mountain villages in the north have endured constant fighting, bombing and raids in the midst of a massive drought without outside help.

But now they are pleading with aid workers for emergency relief. The Red Cross estimates that 300,000 to 400,000 families could still be in remote mountain areas and in desperate straits. These are the areas where fighting between the Taliban and the northern alliance has been fiercest, making aid deliveries risky, or impossible.

That situation is but a small part of Afghanistan's massive aid problem, which stretches across the country and is compounded by logistics and security challenges.

In the north, aid workers for the International Committee of the Red Cross and smaller relief organizations traveled Wednesday from Mazar-e-Sharif to Sholgara to ask elders from remote villages in the area to work with them to ensure security and the smooth delivery of aid.

In the south, common crime and factional fighting have kept the World Food Program from delivering aid to 238,000 hungry people in and around the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, said Jordan Dey, a spokesman for the U.N. program. The city remains a "no-go area," he said Thursday.

A United Nations team planned to assess security in the area today and food trucks in southwest Pakistan were ready to move into Kandahar within days, Dey said.

In other developments:

A spokesman for Afghanistan's new defense ministry, Mohammad Abeel, said Thursday that terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden was in a border area of Pakistan with "friends" of a Pakistani Islamic activist. But the Afghan interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, said his government did not know where bin Laden was.

In Washington, Pentagon officials said U.S. warplanes struck a Taliban leadership compound southwest of Kandahar Wednesday night. They also said 20 suspected al-Qaida fighters captured in Pakistan were transferred to a U.S. Marine base in Kandahar. That brings the total prisoners at that location to 37.

Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord recently named deputy defense minister, said remnants of the Taliban remained in hiding in Afghanistan and were a threat to stability. "The Taliban cannot wage war against us, but they can still create huge problems like committing acts of terrorism and kidnapping our people," he said.