Factional fights leave 21 dead in Afghanistan

Clashes among regions seen as setback to election


KABUL, Afghanistan - Twenty-one people, including two senior Defense Ministry commanders, were killed in heavy factional fighting overnight in the western province of Herat, in another upset for Afghanistan as it prepares for elections, Afghan officials said yesterday.

In what appeared to be coordinated attacks, forces from three neighboring provinces moved on districts in Herat Province, the fief of the powerful warlord Ismail Khan. Fighting involving artillery and tanks was continuing south of the city of Herat, around Shindand yesterday afternoon, said Mohammadullah Afzali, the Foreign Ministry representative in Herat. Both sides confirmed that 21 people had been killed.

The attacks drew a swift rebuke from President Hamid Karzai, who, after a meeting of his national security council, issued a statement condemning the incursions and calling for those responsible to withdraw from the areas they had seized. The attacks were illegal and a threat to public security, it said.

"Any action that jeopardizes public security and threatens people's lives will not be tolerated and no one will be allowed to get away with committing such crimes," the statement said.

The council clearly took the side of Herat's governor, saying that his forces had the right to defend the integrity of the province, said the Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Abdul Zaher Azimi.

Khan has been much criticized in the past by the central government for not respecting central authority.

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