Afghan President Swears in New Cabinet

By AMIR SHAH
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 2:25 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai swore in 20 members of his new Cabinet in Afghanistan's latest step toward democracy, as a top NATO commander warned of stiff security challenges ahead from an eruption of suicide attacks by Taliban militants.

In the latest assault, an attacker detonated his bomb-rigged car near a Canadian military convoy 15 miles northeast of the capital Kabul on Tuesday, killing an Afghan bystander driving a horse cart. There were no coalition casualties, officials said.

An Associated Press reporter saw the bloody remains of the attacker near a roadside tire repair store.

Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who regularly releases statements on behalf of the Taliban, said a member of the extremist group carried out the bombing, the fifth suicide attack in Afghanistan in three days.

The ceremony follows an April 20 vote by parliament to approve most of Karzai's choices for key ministries. That ballot was the first by lawmakers to endorse a Cabinet following landmark general elections last year.

Five of Karzai's nominees, including the incumbent information and economy ministers and the sole woman, were rejected. The president must nominate new candidates for those ministries and a fresh vote will be held.

President Bush called Karzai to congratulate him on the approval of his choices for top ministries in the historic Cabinet vote. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said they also talked about the Afghan economy, relations with Pakistan and the security situation in Afghanistan.

"The two leaders talked about the outstanding performance of Canadian troops deployed in the south," McClellan said. "They talked about the ongoing NATO deployments over the course of the summer."

McClellan said they discussed efforts to increase police forces in the south, and a counter-narcotics campaign.

Outgoing NATO commander, Lt. Gen. Mauro del Vecchio, warned that the alliance's forces face a "challenging" security environment as they expand their presence in Afghanistan. He said NATO will deploy more than 7,000 soldiers to southern Afghanistan in the next few months to counter a stepped-up campaign of violence by Taliban militants.

By November, some 21,000 NATO soldiers are expected in Afghanistan as the alliance gradually assumes command of all international forces from U.S. troops, who will continue anti-terror operations in Afghanistan, particularly along the porous Afghan-Pakistan border.

Twenty-five NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan during del Vecchio's last nine months as commander, including 17 Spanish troops in an August helicopter crash.

In other violence, Taliban gunmen on motorcycles shot dead an Afghan judge Tuesday after he left a mosque prayer service in western Farah province, provincial Gov. Izadullah Wasfi said.

Taliban militants ambushed an Afghan army patrol in the central Uruzgan province late Monday, sparking a four-hour gunbattle that left at least one Afghan soldier dead and three wounded, said Gen. Rehmatullah Roufi, Afghan army commander for the southern provinces.

In nearby Ghazni province, militants fired a rocket at a police convoy, which returned fire and killed one militant, said Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanezai. No police were wounded.

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Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press