Former tobacco PR man to represent Afghans

WASHINGTON - Thomas Lauria, the voice of the tobacco industry during the 1990s, has been selected as the public affairs representative for Afghanistan's interim government.

WASHINGTON - Thomas Lauria, the voice of the tobacco industry during the 1990s, has been selected as the public affairs representative for Afghanistan's interim government.

Lauria signed with the Northern Alliance -- or as he and the Afghans prefer, the United Front -- as a volunteer media liaison four days after the attacks on Washington and New York.



Together with lobbyist Otilie English and Alliance spokesperson, UN representative, and former soldier Haron Amin, they waged a media campaign to raise awareness of the largely unknown Alliance.



Calling themselves Operation Ragtag and working out of English's northern Virginia condo, the group lobbied to have the American military support the loose cadre of rebel fighters, while trying to dampen negative reports about its own human rights record.



Later, the trio campaigned to have women included in any future Afghan government.



With the Taliban now removed from power in Afghanistan, senior Northern Alliance officials who liaised with Lauria were named to equally high-ranking posts in the Afghan interim government earlier this month. One of their first tasks was to amass a public affairs team in Washington, and Operation Ragtag was the obvious choice.



Lauria, who ceased being a volunteer back in October, said the key messages have shifted from military ones to concerns about the country's long-term needs.



Lauria was previously spokesman for the now-defunct Tobacco Institute from 1989-1999.



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