Reuters on Tuesday, February 25, 2003
BAGRAM, Afghanistan – Factional fighting broke out near the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan on Tuesday while President Hamid Karzai was abroad seeking backing for his plan to strip rival militias of their arms.
Two security posts northwest of Bagram Air Base reported seeing and hearing approximately 14 mortar rounds being fired away from the base at about 4.50 a.m. (2320 GMT), U.S. military spokesman Roger King said.
King told a news briefing the fighting apparently involved different Afghan factions, but did not identify them.
“There are some militia commanders on the north side of the base who don’t necessarily get along with each other and every once in a while they launch a few rounds at each other,” King said. He said he had no further details.
The fighting north of Kabul followed a serious clash between Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Junbish militia and fighters of Ustad Atta Mohammad’s Jamiat-e-Islami faction in Faryab province which erupted Saturday and continued until Monday, according to one of Atta’s generals.
Atta’s deputy, General Abdul Saboor, said six people were killed in the clashes, but the factions had since agreed a cease-fire to halt the fighting.
Both of the rival commanders are members of Karzai’s transitional administration and intermittent fighting between their forces over the past year has raised concern about the stability of the government.
The clashes came after Hashim Habibi, a Dostum commander in the area of the fighting, tried to disarm Atta’s main commander there, Nabi Sherzad.
Saboor said those killed in exchanges of tank and shell fire included Sherzad’s wife, daughter, cousin and two of his fighters.
“It is quiet now. With the arrival of the delegation sent from Faryab, the fighting stopped yesterday afternoon,” Saboor told Reuters by telephone from northern Afghanistan.
Dostum is an ethnic minority Uzbek while Atta is from the Tajik minority.
Saboor said Dostum had sent extra forces from neighboring Sari Pul and Jozjan provinces and that could be a stumbling block to a long-term cease-fire. He said the issue would be raised with Dostum once he returned from a trip abroad.
No Dostum official was available for comment.
The fighting in Faryab flared as Karzai was attending an aid conference in Tokyo at the weekend where he was promised about $51 million from Japan, United States, Britain and Canada to help disarm his country’s rival militias.
The project, under which some fighters will be absorbed into the Afghan army and others go into civilians’ jobs, is expected eventually to cost about $140 million.
Tuesday Karzai was in Kuala Lumpur where he was expected to make a fresh appeal for support at the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement summit.
Karzai is keen to complete the disarming of militia groups before elections to be held in June 2004, but faces an uphill task given the strength of the various forces and the still tiny national army.