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Afghan Warlords Battle Over Key City Gardez

The fighting bolstered interim leader Hamid Karzai’s claim that he needs additional international troops to help keep the peace in Afghanistan.

The United Nations Security Council has pledged “continued support” but has not said they will increase the number of non-Afghan soldiers in the region.

The battle over Gardez started yesterday, pitting troops loyal to the newly appointed governor, Padshah Khan Zadran, against the town’s former governing council, led by Haji Saifullah. Zadran, a Pashtun tribal leader, was appointed to the position on Monday.

Saifullah, a powerful tribesman, has support from tribal elders and refuses to back the appointment of Zadran.

“No, no, no we will never accept him!,” Saifullah said in an interview with the Associated Press, “He is a smuggler and a tyrant and a killer.”

Saifullah said the elders have sent the interim government a letter which explained their position and appealed for the appointment to be rescinded.

American warplanes circled overhead, but did not intervene in the artillery and mortar fighting. Karzai’s government has also said they will not step in.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported Saifullah’s forces had taken control of several key locations, including the governor’s house.

Zadran’s forces, however, claim to be in control of the situation.

Afghan officials have looked on the violence with intense trepidation, aware that instability could effect how long wealthy nations, like the United States, wait before helping the war-torn nation rebuild.

The battles also complicate U.S. efforts to eliminate remaining al-Qaida and Taliban fighters left in the Paktia province.

Karzai was in London today, reiterating the need for additional peacekeeping troops. Britain plans to hand over leadership of the peacekeeping force in March, but pledged to stand by Afghanstan.

“Our leadership is there, but it’s for a limited period,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference after their meeting.

On Wednesday, Karzai made another appeal to the United Nations to increase the force numbers from 2,500 to 5,000, which would allow troops to be stationed outside of Kabul.

“It’s a demand of the Afghan people as a measure of commitment by the international community, as a symbol of their commitment to Afghanistan to stay on,” Karzai said.

Such an increase would require the approval of another Security Council resolution. U.N. officials have said a force capable of maintaining security outside of Kabul would have to be far larger than the 2,500 additional troops proposed.

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