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Afghanistan: National Army Delays Deployment To Ghor Province

The deployment of some 700 Afghan National Army soldiers to the remote central Afghan province of Ghor reportedly has been delayed until tomorrow. However, the militia faction that seized the provincial capital in mid-June says it welcomes the central government's troops. Meanwhile, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan says steps must be taken quickly to improve security across the country if elections are to be held in September.

Prague, 22 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A spokesman for a renegade Afghan commander whose militia overran the capital of Ghor Province last week says the commander is prepared to welcome the deployment of a battalion of Afghan National Army troops to the city.

Ikramuddin, the spokesman for Abdul Salaam Khan, says the militia also is willing to participate in the central government's disarmament program -- but only on condition that rival militias in the area disarm, as well.

General Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, announced yesterday that about 700 troops from the Afghan National Army would be sent today from the western city of Herat to Ghor's capital of Chaghcharan: "One battalion of the Afghan National Army is being deployed to Ghor."

But Ahmad Jawid, the secretary of the Afghan National Army's corps commander in Herat, announced today that the deployment has been delayed at least until tomorrow because of what he called "technical and logistical reasons."

Ghor Province is in a remote, mountainous part of central Afghanistan. To reach Chaghcharan, soldiers from the Afghan National Army plan to travel overland from Herat using a route that is one of the most neglected and dilapidated roads in the country. The route also passes through several areas where the topography could expose troops to ambushes by hostile fighters.
"We applaud the government of Afghanistan's actions to bring order to Ghor Province." -- Beth Lee, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul

However, a delegation from the Afghan central government led by former Afghan Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak reportedly arrived in the provincial capital yesterday and has been meeting with Abdul Salaam Khan.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is welcoming Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's decision to send the delegates and to deploy the Afghan National Army to Ghor Province in order to reassert the authority of the central government and disarm renegade militia fighters.

"We applaud the government of Afghanistan's actions to bring order to Ghor Province," said Beth Lee, a spokeswoman for the embassy. "The unfortunate incidents in Ghor the last few days further emphasize the need to accelerate the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration process and the importance of leadership by the national government."

Ghor is the third province since March in which troops from the fledgling national army have been deployed to calm crises after militia factions resisted attempts by the central government to disarm and demobilize -- a program seen as essential to creating conditions for free and fair elections.

In Kabul yesterday, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan said a decision will have to be made by the end of June on whether polls can go ahead, as scheduled, in September. UN envoy Jean Arnault also warned that more NATO troops are needed in the country by the end of July.

"We invite very, very strongly, member states of NATO to take into account the very peculiar situation in Afghanistan and the fact that security will continue to become a critical issue in terms of promoting a democratic agenda," Arnault said.

Arnault said there must be a surge of disarmament and demobilization activity in order to ensure that voters are not intimidated by militia groups or remnants of the Taliban.

"The United Nations has been very vehemently, for the past couple of years, demanding -- time and time and time again -- that the international community should provide more international assistance in order to support Afghan forces in the provisions of security. And, of course, the events of the past three weeks have demonstrated that security is not improving. If anything, it has become more volatile," Arnault added.

Arnault also said that for elections to be carried out on schedule, international donors must release tens of millions of dollars of poll funds they have pledged but have not yet delivered.

"We are, among other things, still facing a fairly serious situation from the point of view of funding the elections. We have received already, I believe, a contribution of about $12.5 million. This is good. But this is absolutely not enough. It is not enough with regard to holding elections internally. And it is very far from being enough to hold elections more broadly in neighboring countries for [Afghan] refugees [who are eligible to vote]," Arnault said.

Arnault refused to single out specific countries for failing to deliver promised aid.