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Multi-front war

War on Terror | Fighting feuding, hanging kidnappers, and cutting deals

Issue: "Sex, lies, & audiotape," July 27, 2002

While U.S. forces searched for remnant terrorists in Afghanistan, Pentagon chiefs tried to curb infighting among U.S. allies. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz used a one-day trip to Afghanistan on July 15 to visit the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where he warned competing warlords to stop feuding. Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and Shiite leader Mohammed Mohaqeq proved crucial in aiding U.S. forces to win back the region from the Taliban. But both men want to control the region and have their own private armies to prove it. They also historically opposed Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun clan leader from the south who is now president of Afghanistan.

Mr. Wolfowitz told the warlords that the United States supports a multiethnic national army under the control of the Karzai government, which would take the task of ridding the country of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Such an army would also end the reign of the private militias, which are charging humanitarian aid groups and journalists thousands of dollars in "fees" for protection and access in the north.

Outside Afghanistan, courtrooms became battlefields in the global war on terrorism. A Pakistani court sentenced Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to death and three other Islamic militants to life in prison in the kidnapping and death of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl. The three-month trial ended with Mr. Saeed sentenced to execution by hanging. The defendants say they will appeal the guilty verdicts. Mr. Saeed and his accomplices, however, will have a hard time convincing a different jury that they are not murderous jihadists. Mr. Saeed called the trial a "waste of time" in a "decisive war between Islam and infidels." He also vowed revenge: "We'll see who will die first, me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me."

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A federal judge in Virginia approved a surprise plea-bargain arrangement for American Taliban John Walker Lindh. The 21-year-old Islamic convert from California pled guilty to two felony charges, which will land him 20 years in prison. At the same time, the Justice Department dropped seven remaining charges, including conspiracy to kill Americans, which could have led to life in prison.

Mr. Lindh will provide testimony to U.S. investigators and participate in trials and military tribunals against other terrorist suspects. U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said the deal proves "that the criminal justice system can be an effective tool in the fight against terrorism."

Family members of Johnny Michael Spann, the CIA officer who was killed by the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif shortly after interviewing Mr. Lindh, disagreed. "As Mike's mom, I would like for Mike to have had 20 years to live," said Gail Spann.

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