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 (which they later had to abandon when residents
voiced fears about terrorist retaliation), 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
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
"Today's messages involve rebuilding Afghanistan," he explained. "Since
food seems to be having trouble going into Kabul, we're looking for help
from the international community." Another top priority is the country's
Lauria was previously spokesman for the now-defunct Tobacco Institute