- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan — Suspected al Qaeda fighters ambushed Afghan security forces near the Pakistani border yesterday, and U.S. forces were drawn into the deadly gunbattle that ensued, a local commander said.

A senior Afghan intelligence official and six attackers were killed at the scene in eastern Khost province, said Khial Baz, a military commander in Khost.

The Afghan officials were traveling in a pickup truck when they came under fire. The province’s deputy intelligence chief was killed instantly and his boss, Qudratullah Madezai, was seriously hurt, Mr. Baz said by satellite telephone.

The rest of the passengers opened fire along with U.S. reinforcements killing six attackers.

The assailants appear to have been Arabs fighting for al Qaeda. Documents found on the bodies were in Arabic, Mr. Baz said.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, said this month that hundreds of al Qaeda fighters still appear to be active in Khost and neighboring provinces on the long Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The area has seen a wave of attacks this year by insurgents believed to be a mix of Taliban, al Qaeda and fighters loyal to renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The attacks came as debate over Afghanistan’s new constitution soured yesterday.

Government allies accused religious hard-liners of trying to pepper the charter with strict Islamic laws and the sides disagreed over how much power should be given to the future presidency.

President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials are hoping the talks among the 502 delegates to the loya jirga, or grand council, will end with a draft awarding sweeping powers to the country’s chief executive in a tolerant Islamic state.

But they face deepening opposition from powerful leaders of armed factions who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s under the banner of Islam and still hold sway in the provinces.

Council spokeswoman Safia Saddiqi said that eight of the draft’s 160 articles were hotly contested in a secretive committee drawing up possible amendments.

Ashmat Ghani, a member of the so-called reconciliation committee and brother of the country’s finance minister, said there was a solid majority for a presidential system.

But he said Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a deeply conservative Islamist, was “trying to put the word of Islam into every article.”

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