Heavy fighting in Herat city after minister dies, 100 killed

Los Angeles Times,
, March 22, 2004

Dozens are wounded or killed when fighting breaks out among military factions after Afghanistan's aviation minister -- the son of a warlord -- is assassinated.

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan civil aviation minister was killed Sunday in the western province of Herat, sparking a fierce battle between rival military factions in some of the worst violence in the country since the fall of the Taliban more than two years ago.

The fighting left dozens of people wounded or killed, according to reports from the scene, and served as the latest reminder that the central government of President Hamid Karzai has little ability to rein in the warlords and competing militias that control much of the country outside the capital.

Witnesses said dozens of people were lying injured on the streets of Herat after Mirwais Sadiq -- the son of powerful provincial governor Ismael Khan -- was killed. An Associated Press report said 50 to 100 people were killed in the fighting.

Sadiq, in his late 30s, is the third minister in the troubled Afghan administration to be assassinated in two years. Karzai convened an emergency meeting of his national-security team Sunday, and a government spokesman said Afghan troops were being deployed to secure the city.

More than 100 people died in factional fighting in the western Afghan city of Herat on Sunday after the killing of a cabinet minister who was the son of the powerful provincial governor, officials said.

REUTERS, March 22, 2004

The sequence of events that triggered the violence remained unclear. Some Afghan authorities said Sadiq was killed after a failed assassination attempt on his father, Khan, a warlord who commands thousands of men in his private army in western Afghanistan. Others offered conflicting accounts.

Shah Wali, an Afghan intelligence official, said the man responsible for the attacks was Zahir Nayabzada, a rival of Khan who was recently appointed by Karzai as a senior military commander in the province. His office said Sadiq was killed as he led an advance on the headquarters of Nayabzada, whom he blamed for the assault on his father.

In interviews with news agencies Sunday, Nayabzada said his forces had killed Sadiq after the aviation minister came to his house and attempted to relieve him of his command. Nayabzada claimed that Sadiq had broken into his house earlier in the day.

But Sunday, an eyewitness said Herat resembled a war zone as soldiers loyal to Khan and the corps commanded by Nayabzada began fighting.

''There are military vehicles everywhere,'' the eyewitness said. "In the afternoon you could hear rocket launchers and small guns being fired. There were people on the streets lying injured or dead.''

The fighting erupted near German diplomatic offices, and German officials were removed by U.S. and coalition forces to a nearby military compound.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said the compound is home to about 100 coalition troops and aid workers that form one of the so-called Provisional Reconstruction Teams created to foster stability in areas beyond the control of the central government.

The outbreak of violence surprised some officials, who noted that most of the factional fighting -- as well as recent incursions by supporters of the ousted Taliban government -- has been focused in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.

Khaleeq Ahmed, a Karzai spokesman, said a delegation including the minister of defense, Marshall Mohammad Fahim, was being sent to investigate.

''It is a very bad situation,'' Ahmed said. "We can't get in contact with the governor. The minister of defense has called for a cease-fire and those who have broken the law will be brought to justice.''

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