Rival factions trade artillery, rocket fire in Afghanistan

Friday, October 18, 2002

The Associated PressKABUL, Afghanistan -- Rival Afghan factions traded artillery and rocket fire in a clash that left at least three fighters dead in eastern Afghanistan, a governor's spokesman said Thursday.

Fighting erupted Wednesday in the troubled eastern province of Khost when militiamen backing renegade warlord Bacha Khan Zadran attacked several checkpoints manned by men loyal to Gov. Hakim Taniwal, according to Taniwal's spokesman, Mohammad Khan Gorbuz.

The fighting at Nadir Shahkot district, about 10 miles west of Khost town, was continuing Thursday, Gorbuz said by telephone from the town.

Taniwal's forces, numbering 800, had surrounded Zadran's positions in Nadir Shahkot, Gorbuz said. Advancing Thursday, they found three bodies of Zadran's fighters. There was no independent confirmation of the claims and casualty figures were not available.

Fighting between rival warlords is common in Afghanistan's lawless countryside. President Hamid Karzai's government has little authority outside the capital, which is patrolled by 4,800 international peacekeepers.

At least five fighters were killed, several from each side, when battles last broke out between the two factions in Nadir Shahkot on Oct. 7.

Zadran's gunmen have sought to assert control over territories in Khost and Paktia provinces in defiance of Karzai's administration. Zadran claims Karzai appointed Taniwal to the governor's post illegally.

Last month, Zadran's main bases in Khost were overrun by fighters loyal to Taniwal in several days of fighting.

Khost province, which borders Pakistan, is one of the key fronts in the war against terrorism, and U.S. forces have been working in the area in the hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts.

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