- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan After burying their dead, tribal fighters with fresh stocks of guns and ammunition prepared yesterday for a second assault on an eastern Afghan provincial capital, where fighting this past week killed at least 61 persons.
Warlord Bacha Khan's last attempt to take Gardez ended with his fighters retreating to the hills after two days of bloody fighting last week. But they planned to attack the dilapidated town again today, having been rearmed with 10 truckloads of weapons and ammunition, Mr. Khan's brother, Wazir Khan, told the Associated Press.
"They killed 11 of our people, we buried them, and tomorrow we will begin fighting again," he said by telephone.
Continued unrest here and elsewhere has led many Afghans to conclude they need a larger international peacekeeping force capable of operating nationwide and not simply in Kabul, the capital.
Terrified families huddled in basements or fled the town during the fighting on Wednesday and Thursday in which Mr. Khan's forces fired mortars from two hilltops. Fighters loyal to the Gardez town council, or shura, mounted their defense from an old hill fort in the town center.
Mr. Khan needs Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, to assert his authority as the region's governor. But Gardez tribal leaders, who claim Mr. Khan is a smuggler and tyrant, reject his governorship and have appealed to the interim Afghan government for a replacement.
A U.S. Marine spokesman, 1st Lt. James Jarvis, yesterday defended the U.S. military decision not to intervene in the fighting. Townspeople had expressed disappointment that U.S. aircraft flying above and special forces troops operating from an old fort nearby had not come to their aid.
"We believe this is an Afghan situation, and they are certainly free to govern themselves," said Lt. Jarvis, based at the U.S.-run airfield at the southern city of Kandahar. "It's not something any of the forces at Kandahar would be involved in."
Both sides in Gardez said yesterday that government mediators who had been dispatched to broker a solution had not contacted them.
Haji Saifullah, leader of the Gardez council that opposes Mr. Khan, said there was no fighting yesterday and that they did not want combat to resume.
"We do not plan any fighting," he said.
Without a national army, the interim government of Hamid Karzai has little power to force peace on squabbling regional warlords.
Mr. Karzai used his high-profile visits to Washington and London last week to push for a stronger international security force in his country, with a mandate to patrol outside the capital. But he was unable to win any pledge that the peacekeeping force would be significantly enlarged or its deployment expanded. Mr. Karzai returned to Kabul yesterday.
In New York, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah endorsed a suggestion Friday that the force be increased from 5,000 to about 20,000 and spread to major regional centers, including Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
"I think that will provide enough assurances … about maintaining the stability throughout the country," Mr. Abdullah said.
Germany has committed up to 1,200 troops to the U.N.-sponsored force. But German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in an interview released yesterday that Germany would "overstretch" its military if it took over leadership of the force from Britain. Mr. Karzai has urged Germany to step in when Britain hands over command of the force in March.
"At present, we would overstretch the army," the Welt am Sonntag newspaper quoted Mr. Scharping as saying. "Our forces are committed in the Balkans, in the fight against international terrorism and in Afghanistan."

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