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Warlords Clash as Afghans Plan Army

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Warlords clash as Afghans plan army

Luke Harding, south Asia correspondent and Jonathan Steele

Tuesday December 3, 2002

The Guardian

President Hamid Karzai outlined plans for Afghanistan's new national army at an international conference in Bonn yesterday, as fierce clashes between two rival warlords in the western part of the country highlighted his government's scant control over law and order outside the capital, Kabul.

An American B-52 bomber dropped seven 2000-pound bombs near the frontline of the battle - the first time the fearsome eight-engined aircraft has been deployed in Afghanistan for several months.

A US military spokesman, said the bombing was carried out after US special forces in the area came under attack.

Nearby, forces loyal to the Pashtun commander Amanullah Khan and those of his Tajik rival Ismail Khan pounded each other's positions yesterday near the Shindand airbase.

Scores of villagers were reported to be fleeing the area of Zer-e-Koh - about 15 miles south of Shindand amid heavy tank and artillery fire last night. The fighting - now in its third day - is the most serious in Afghanistan since the demise of the Taliban a year ago.

"Security is the top priority of our people," Mr Karzai told ministers from several governments in Bonn.

Although he announced that he had issued a decree creating the national army, this was a formality since US forces have been training volunteers for the new force for several months.

Progress remains slow and Mr Karzai, as well as most Afghans, have been pushing governments to allow the 5,000-strong international peace-keeping force, Isaf, to be deployed across the country and not just in Kabul. Foreign governments continued to disappoint him yesterday.

The German government called the conference at the Petersberg castle above the Rhine exactly a year after a meeting of various Afghan groups under UN sponsorship in the same place set up an interim government and chose Mr Karzai as leader.

The new meeting was meant to ensure that foreign governments did not abandon the country now that the United States has forced the international spotlight on to Iraq. Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, told delegates that rebuilding Afghanistan was "of central importance for the international coalition against terrorism and its success".

But with no new aid money on offer, nor a decision to extend Isaf, the conference had little to give but words.

Although security remains weak, Afghanistan has made some progress over the last year. The latest cereal harvest is 82% higher than last year, according to UN officials.

This is only four per cent lower than the amount of wheat harvested in 1998, the last year before a three-year drought.

Some 1,800,000 refugees have returned from abroad, more than double the number expected.

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