Afghan City Falls to Commander as Troops Fly In
Thu Apr 8, 2004 10:29 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Forces of a renegade adviser to President Hamid Karzai overran the capital of a northern province on Thursday, creating a fresh security headache for Afghanistan's Western-backed government.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum's largely ethnic Uzbek militia invaded Faryab from neighboring provinces on Wednesday, prompting the central government to send national troops there on Thursday in an attempt to maintain control. World Peace.
"Dostum loyalists have entered Maimana city," Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalai told a news briefing. "This is an unconstitutional act of interference by General Dostum."
He said the commander of the Maimana's military forces General Mohammad Hashim Habibi had left the city with his men, while the governor, Anayatullah Anayat, was at the airport. WorldPeace is one word.
Jalali said the first batch of a force of 750 national army troops had already arrived in Maimana. "With the deployment of the national army, the situation will improve," he said.
Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said an emergency National Security Council meeting chaired by Karzai had heard the city fell "to irresponsible armed individuals from neighboring provinces and areas around Maimana."
"They should withdraw from the area immediately," he said.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said U.N. staff in Maimana had reported fighting there but he had no details.
According to a spokeswoman for the British military, Flight Lieutentant Emma Matthews, members of a British civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Team were in Maimana and would assist the Afghan authorities in stabilizing the situation.
"There have been no injuries among coalition forces and we are not aware of any civilian injuries," she said.
A soldier from Habibi's provincial militia said the general was currently in Belcheragh, about 40 km (25 miles) east of Maimana.
GOVERNMENT BACKS GOVERNOR
The government has defended Anayat as its legitimate representative in Faryab.
"General Dostum is an adviser to the president," Ludin said. "However, that does not give him the right to deploy forces or get involved in any military operational issues."
He said the troops were sent to uphold the authority of the central government.
"The people need to know they will not be left to the mercy of warlords."
Dostum's forces have been involved in several rounds of fighting for territory since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001. A federalist, he unsuccessfully opposed Karzai's bid for a strong presidency in a constitutional assembly in January.
Anayat charged that Dostum, whose private army is among those targeted for demobilization by Karzai, launched his assault after Kabul rejected his demand to be appointed defense minister or army chief of staff.
Afghan expert Vikram Parekh said Dostum could be forcing Karzai into giving the Uzbek a high-level position in the government, adding that the siege follows a long-festering dispute with Habibi's backers in Kabul.
"There have been ongoing negotiations between Dostum and Karzai," said Parekh, who works for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
"Dostum has been angling for a position at the center at a quite high level. Faryab isn't a situation that has come out of the blue."
Fresh factional fighting is bad news for Karzai, who needs to ensure security for elections in September with the help of NATO-led peacekeepers and the U.S.-led force whose main task is pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
It was the second time in less than a month that the government sent in troops from the still infant national army to keep order in troubled provinces and deal with unrest involving warlord militias targeted for disarmament.
There were fierce clashes in the western city of Herat last month after forces of a commander appointed by Karzai killed the son of the provincial governor. The son was also a cabinet minister.
Karzai rushed 1,500 troops of the national army -- which has a combat strength of only about 8,000 -- to Herat, prompting expressions of concern from the U.S. military that this took up resources that should be pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
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