REGION: Afghan government sends more troops to troubled Herat
KABUL: The Afghan government sent more troops to the troubled western city of Herat on Tuesday to assert its authority ahead of the funeral of the provincial governor’s son, who was killed in bloody clashes at the weekend.
The defence ministry began dispatching troops from the new national army to re-establish a presence in the city on Monday after the government commander was driven out after fighting on Sunday with powerful governor Ismail Khan’s forces.
A defence ministry official said the government planned to station a total of 1,500 troops in Herat.
The soldiers were going “to stabilise and secure the situation” and had already been well received, Deputy Defence Minister Rahim Wardak said.
“I think that they will see them as liberators from some oppressive system which is unfortunately unfolding in that province,” he told Reuters. “It demonstrates the firm determination on the part of the central government and gives a signal to all those who are up to some sort of mischief that they better think it over,” he said. “After this the government will be decisive and the Afghan National Army is ready to be deployed anywhere.”
More than 100 people, including civilians, were reported to have been killed in the clashes, some of the worst violence between pro-government factions since Karzai was installed after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The clashes underscore the U.S.-backed president’s difficulties asserting his rule over powerful regional governors like Khan and bringing stability ahead of elections supposed to be held in June, but widely expected to be delayed.
Dozens of soldiers, armed with assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were seen boarding planes in Kabul on Tuesday morning. The Afgan Islamic Press News agency said 140 were seen disembarking in Herat. The commander whose forces were accused of sparking Sunday’s fighting by killing Khan’s son Mirwais Sadiq - the aviation minister in President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet - said he was in neighbouring Baghdis province.
Zahir Nayebzada said all his actions had been in support of Karzai’s government. “I will obey the orders of the central government,” he said.
Speaking to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press, Nayebzada accused Khan’s men of starting the fighting and said he still had 2,000 troops with him.
Khan, an Islamic hardliner who made his name in the struggle against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, professes loyalty to Karzai’s U.S.-backed government but has often been accused of running a personal fiefdom in the west.
He has been at odds with Karzai in the past for failing to give up tens of millions of dollars in customs revenues from Herat, which controls the bulk of Afghanistan’s trade. Last year he was stripped of his post as the province’s military chief.
A funeral ceremony for Sadiq, to be attended by Khan and a central government delegation including the powerful defence Minster Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, was due to be held on Tuesday afternoon.
Khan’s spokesman, Ghulam Mohammad Masoan, said many people were expected to attend the ceremony in an ancient graveyard just outside the city.
He called the killing of Sediq a “premeditated” act.
The government has said it will decide its next step after Fahim and Jalali report back on the fighting. —Reuters