Former tobacco PR man to rep 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.

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

long-term needs.

"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

land-mine problem.

Lauria was previously spokesman for the now-defunct Tobacco Institute

from 1989-1999.

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