- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 17, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan parliament announced Sunday it will recess for several weeks without waiting for President Hamid Karzai to offer a new list of Cabinet nominees after he failed two times to form a full government.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman said the president would name caretaker ministers for the vacant posts and conceded it was not likely the president would have a Cabinet in place before a Jan. 28 international conference in London.

Washington and its allies have been pressing Mr. Karzai to assemble his second-term administration ahead of the London conference, which is aimed at streamlining aid efforts for Afghanistan.

“Our understanding is that we may not be able to do so and that the parliament might go to their recess and we will introduce new members after they come back from their recess,” spokesman Waheed Omar said at a news conference.

The uncertainty over the makeup of Mr. Karzai’s administration following flawed presidential elections last year compounds the many problems facing Afghanistan, including the increasingly bloody insurgency. In the latest violence to blight the country, gunmen opened fire on a local government convoy Sunday, killing six people, including a district chief.

International forces also killed two Afghan civilians in separate checkpoint shootings, underscoring the dangers facing Afghans who find themselves caught in the middle of escalating combat.

Mohammad Saleh Suljoqi, the secretary for the parliamentary speaker, said lawmakers decided Sunday to adjourn for a recess through the end of February despite the Cabinet standoff, although he acknowledged Mr. Karzai has the constitutional authority to call them back.

The political turmoil has complicated U.S.-backed efforts to build a government capable of combating corruption and pursuing reforms considered key to defeating the Taliban and its allies as the United States and its international partners send 37,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan.

Two weeks ago, parliament rejected 70 percent of Mr. Karzai’s Cabinet picks, forcing him to present a second list.

On Saturday, 224 lawmakers present approved only seven of 17 new nominees, leaving him without confirmed leaders for 11 of the 25 Cabinet posts. Mr. Omar said the president might leave current ministers in place as caretakers or he might appoint new people to keep the ministries running.

Sunday’s attack on the local government convoy occurred in a relatively safe area in the western province of Herat. Afghan officials frequently have been targeted by violence as militants seek to derail efforts to establish government control over regions outside Kabul.

The gunmen ambushed the convoy from all directions as it was traveling on the main highway between the provincial capital of Herat to the district of Chishti Sharif, provincial police spokesman Noor Khan Nekzad said.

Abdul Qadus Qayyum, the administrative chief of Chishti Sharif; the local director of criminal investigations; and four policemen were killed after a 50-minute gunbattle, according to the Interior Ministry.

Raouf Ahmedi, a spokesman for police in western Afghanistan, and other officials blamed Taliban militants, saying the men apparently were targeted because they were high-ranking officials.

Mr. Qayyum, previously an intelligence director in Herat, was named to the district chief post two months ago and did not travel with additional security because the area has not suffered many attacks, Mr. Nekzad said.

German soldiers killed a civilian in a vehicle speeding toward a temporary checkpoint in the northern province of Kunduz, according to the Germany military.

It said troops opened fire with small arms after the vehicle did not stop despite “hand signals and warning shots.” Two passengers were injured and one later died of wounds after being taken to a civilian hospital.

International forces also killed an Afghan civilian Sunday after opening fire at a speeding vehicle in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. The shooting occurred in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, a Taliban-influenced area expected to be a major focus of President Obama’s troop surge.

The Afghan man was shot in the chest and died of his wounds after he was transported to a medical facility at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, NATO said in a statement. He was one of six people traveling at a high speed in a large vehicle with no headlights, but the other five passengers weren’t injured, it said. The vehicle stopped after international soldiers fired three to five rounds into the grill.

NATO said it was conducting a joint investigation with Afghan officials into the shooting.

Garmsir has been the site of violent demonstrations this week after rumors spread that NATO forces had desecrated a Quran. NATO denies the rumors.

Five other Afghan civilians were wounded in the area on Wednesday when U.S. Marines and Afghan forces opened fire during one protest outside another military base, NATO has said.

The United Nations says the number of Afghan civilians killed by U.S. and other international forces has declined sharply after top commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal tightened rules on the use of airstrikes and other weaponry to reduce civilian casualties.

Joint NATO-Afghan forces also seized 3,500 pounds of marijuana and opium as well as $48,000 worth of Pakistani rupees and $4,000 in Afghan currency Saturday during an operation in the Panjawi district of Kandahar province, the international force said.

Sunday’s statement said 10 insurgents were killed and five men detained in the combined air assault and gunfight. The money was turned over to local authorities and the drugs destroyed.

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