BAMIYAN, Afghanistan - Rallying international aid for Afghanistan, first lady Laura Bush yesterday showcased projects to better the lives of war-weary Afghans. Yet at each stop, an eerie reminder of the country's violent past was just a glance away.
In a prelude to her trip to the Afghanistan donors conference this week in Paris, Bush visited a construction site of a learning center for youngsters that will double as an orphanage. She marveled at how women, who just a few years ago were being forced by the Taliban to shroud themselves from head to toe, are now Afghan National Police trainees. She celebrated the halfway point of a project to pave a road from the airport to the town center in Bamiyan Province.
While she hopes her trip highlights signs of progress, there were more signs of violence. Three British soldiers were killed in a suicide attack and a local reporter for the BBC was found dead yesterday
The soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing while on foot patrol less than a mile from their base in Afghanistan's Upper Sangin Valley, the British military said. A fourth soldier was wounded. The deaths brought the British military's death toll in Afghanistan to 100 since the 2001 invasion by the United States and its allies.
The first lady, who slipped out of Washington without public notice on Saturday morning, landed at Kabul International Airport and swapped her blue-and-white plane for a Nighthawk helicopter. Bamiyan is one of the safer of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Still, the first lady's entourage wore flak jackets for the trip and machine gunners leaned out the helicopter windows scouting for threats.
Her last stop before flying to Slovenia, where she'll meet her husband for a U.S.-European Union summit, was Bagram Air Field, a sprawling American base in the shadow of the towering Hindu Kush mountains, streaked on top with snow.