By Amir Shah
Monday, June 12, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 11 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that his government would give weapons to local tribesmen so they could help fight the biggest surge in Taliban violence in years.
Two soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition, one of them British, and seven Afghan civilians were killed in the latest violence in the country's south, the region hardest hit by recent insurgent attacks.
Speaking to a group of tribal elders from eastern Afghanistan, Karzai said he did not want to form militias that could clash with rival tribes.
"We just want to strengthen the districts to safeguard them from terrorist attack," he said.
Western diplomats briefed on the plan expressed concern that the effort could fuel factional fighting by arming forces loyal to warlords with long histories of factional disputes. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Karzai's spokesman, Karim Rahimi, said Afghan officials believed that the tribal fighters would be loyal to the government, describing them as "community police."
Karzai did not say how many would be armed, but said there would be a dramatic increase in the ranks of security forces in some areas. He told the elders that in one troubled district in southern Kandahar province, there were only 45 officers to police a population of 65,000.
"We need about 150 police in that district for it to be strong, so we need to build the force from within the community," he said.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said the tribal forces would "take their command from each district police chief."
More than 500 people, most of them suspected fighters, have been killed since mid-May in a resurgence of fighting by the Taliban, an Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan until it were ousted from power in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
Wardak said the rebels have stepped up attacks in an attempt to scare Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Romania from deploying about 6,000 troops in the country as part of an expanded NATO force.
NATO soldiers are scheduled to assume responsibility next month for portions of southern Afghanistan from troops under U.S. command.
In the latest violence, a foreign soldier was killed when a bomb hit his armored vehicle during a search of a village in Ghazni province, the U.S. military said in a statement. Sgt. Chris Miller, a military spokesman, said he was not permitted to disclose the soldier's nationality.
In London, the Defense Ministry said a British soldier was killed and another seriously injured in a firefight with suspected Taliban forces in the southern Helmand province.
In Ghazni, unidentified gunmen killed three Afghans late Saturday as they drove near the provincial capital, said Ali Ahmad, a local police commander.
In Kandahar province, gunmen killed four Afghan laborers working for an Indian road construction company, a government spokesman said. The men were driving home with $8,000, which was stolen from them. It was not immediately clear whether the Taliban or thieves were responsible.