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Officials Laud Rebuilding of Afghan Girls School

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2002 – U.S. military officials are lauding the reconstruction of an Afghan girls school destroyed by U.S. bombs in fighting with the Taliban.

The repressive Taliban regime had closed the Sultan Rasia School in Mazar-e Sharif and used the facility as a military barracks. It was the scene of heavy fighting between Northern Alliance forces and Taliban fighters during the pitched battle for the town last November.

Records show U.S. ground troops were not directly involved in the battle, but coalition forces did provide air support.

In March, U.S. aid agencies, military engineers and civil affairs units began the task of rebuilding. More than 60 percent of the school was destroyed, according to one official estimate. Now, reconstruction is 95 percent complete, and plans are being made to return students to the classrooms.

Volunteers and locally hired construction contractors carted away many loads of rubble -- and found many human remains left over from the fighting -- before construction could begin.

Also during that startup period, the school began holding classes in tents in the schoolyard, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon briefing in late March.

"It's quite a difference from just six months ago," Rumsfeld said March 25. "I should add that the school in Mazar-e Sharif, where the al Qaeda forces fought such a fierce battle for so long, has been reopened in tents in the schoolyard. And the school itself is being repaired and rebuilt with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) -- taxpayers' money."

U.S. and Afghan officials consider the school's reconstruction notable because it serves up to 3,000 7- to 18-year-old girls in the Mazar-e Sharif area. U.S. Central Command planning documents indicate the school's reconstruction was the highest priority of the region's minister of education.

"This program will support Afghanistan's efforts to provide improved educational services to all its citizens, especially the female students, as well as provide an increasing number of teaching jobs," the planning documents state.

"This is a great story, because what was once the site of carnage is now a symbol of the advancement of women and girls in Afghanistan," a CENTCOM spokesman said.

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