Factional fighting spreads in Afghanistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

Factional violence spread across Afghanistan on Sunday, with gunbattles in the north between militias of two powerful warlords leaving up to three fighters dead, rival groups said Sunday.

Forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival, Atta Mohammed, battled overnight in Kod-e-Barq, an area about 190 miles northwest of the capital, Kabul.

About 500 fighters from Mohammed’s faction looted houses belonging to Dostum and leaders of his faction, a spokesman for Dostum said. Three of Dostum’s men were killed and about 15 were injured, the spokesman, Akbar Boy, said.

Mohammed Shafi, a senior commander for Mohammed, confirmed the clash, but said only one of Dostum’s men was killed. Two of his own men were injured, he said.

Shafi claimed Dostum’s militia, armed with rockets, attacked the area in preparation for a move on Mazar-e-Sharif, a major northern city where the two militias jostle for control.

Local residents resisted them, he said.

'One Kalashnikov in every house'
“The people rose up. There’s at least one Kalashnikov in every house there, and Dostum’s people retreated,” Shafi said.

Officials in Kabul had no immediate comment.

The two factions have fought repeatedly over power, territory, and according to some, drug money, ever since helping the United States drive out the Taliban at the end of 2001.

The latest violence comes on the heels of similar clashes in two other provinces, which risk dragging President Hamid Karzai into a dangerous confrontation with regional leaders he has pledged to disarm ahead of September’s landmark elections.

According to the United Nations, one person was killed and 10 others wounded when gunfire broke out during a protest rally in northwestern Faryab province on Thursday.

The rally in Maymana, the capital of Faryab province 260 miles northwest of Kabul, “turned ugly,” said U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva. “There was indeed some shooting.”

He said four more people were injured Saturday in a clash between rock-throwing supporters and opponents of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful northern warlord.

Loyal to Karzai
The U.N. figures were the first confirmation of casualties in the province, which the Kabul government says was temporarily overrun last week by troops and supporters of Dostum.

Karzai has vowed to reinstate the Kabul-appointed governor, who fled an angry crowd outside his residence Thursday. The provincial military commander also was driven out after many of his soldiers apparently turned against him.

Both officials say they were targeted because of their loyalty to Karzai rather than Dostum, who has maintained strong political influence and a private army in the region since helping rout the Taliban in late 2001.