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Afghanistan: Rival Faction Takes Provincial Capital

Gardez, Afghanistan; 31 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Factional fighting continued in eastern Afghanistan today, as forces loyal to the incoming governor of Paktia province were routed from the provincial capital Gardez. Most of Padsha Khan's forces withdrew into the hills after trying to gain control of the town, as some of his troops threatened to abandon the conflict and return to their homes.

Khan says he is trying to secure the town under the auspices of Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai. The opposing faction supports Pashtun tribal chief Saif Ullah, who grabbed control of Paktia province, near the eastern border with Pakistan, after the Taliban retreated under pressure from U.S.-led attempts to unseat them.

A commander in Ullah's forces, Ghazi Ameri, said at least 50 people, including 20 civilians, have died in the clashes.

In London today, Karzai met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and repeated his call for an expansion of the international security force in Afghanistan.

For more on this story, see Afghanistan: Heavy Fighting In Paktia Province As Facts Prove Elusive