Afghan Troops Move Into City That Governor Was Forced to Flee

Posted in Broader Middle East | 10-Apr-04 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 9 - The central government seemed to be regaining control of a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan on Friday, as hundreds of Afghan National Army troops began moving into the city 24 hours after the governor was forced to flee, government officials said.

The soldiers, part of a, newly trained army of 9,000 that is loyal to the government of President Hamid Karzai, met no opposition. The city, Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, was calm, said the presidential spokesman, Jawed Ludin.

"They secured the airport and then went out into the city," Mr. Ludin told The Associated Press. "Our reports are that the people received them quite warmly."

A British military observation team in Maimana reported that order had been restored after the arrival of the army, which is known as A.N.A. "The A.N.A. are now patrolling in the town and are currently assisting the local police," a statement from the British military press office in Kabul said. British military planes flew the Afghan soldiers and their American trainers to the city, and more soldiers arrived by road.

Despite the official pronouncements, however, it still was not clear whether the power struggle was over or if militiamen loyal to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum had left the city, as the president had requested.

The incident began Thursday when a crowd of General Dostum's supporters, mostly unarmed, attacked the office of the provincial governor, forcing him to flee under the protection of British troops. One person was reported killed and 10 wounded in the violence, according to the United Nations office in northern Afghanistan.

Another rally by supporters of General Dostum on Friday afternoon passed uneventfully, said a spokesman for the Afghan National Army, Gen. Zaher Azimi. The governor, Enayatullah Enayat, was under central government protection and would "maybe" return to his office Saturday, the general said.

The situation in the rest of the province remained uncertain. Militias loyal to General Dostum have taken control of most of the province and are pursuing a local commander, Hashem Habibi, who recently broke with General Dostum, residents said. British troops reported small-arms and artillery fire in Mr. Habibi's home district.

A government delegation was meeting Friday with General Dostum in his hometown of Shibarghan, east of Maimana. In a telephone conversation with Mr. Karzai on Thursday, General Dostum denied that his troops had moved into Faryab Province or that he had been trying to challenge the government's authority, the presidential spokesman, Mr. Ludin, told Reuters.

Yet in his first comments on the clashes in an interview with Reuters, General Dostum complained that he had not been consulted on the deployment of the army troops. He demanded that Mr. Karzai dismiss his interior and defense ministers or face the collapse of his government, and he railed against passes by American jets over his home Thursday night. "My kids were frightened, but let me say that I am not the type of man to be afraid," he said.