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Afghanistan: Defense Ministry Ready To Disarm Renegade Factions

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says it is ready to expand a program to disarm renegade military factions across the country, including five southeastern provinces where factional leaders have been challenging the authority of the central government. The move comes less than two weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on the fledgling Afghan national army that includes a call for an end to warlordism.

Prague, 12 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says it is ready to start disarming renegade militia commanders who have been challenging the authority of the central government. Disarmament of the private armies of Afghanistan's regional commanders is considered a critical step toward building an Afghan national army. Renegade commanders pose one of the biggest threats to the stability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Transitional Authority.

In southeastern Afghanistan, renegade factional leaders like Padshah Khan Zadran have openly challenged Karzai's authority and have waged a series of bloody battles in an attempt to subvert his decrees.

Afghan Deputy Defense Minister General Barialai told RFE/RL today that an initial disarmament program in northeastern Afghanistan has been successful and will be expanded to include the rest of the country beginning next week. "This program [for disarmament] has been conducted [in the northeast] by General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum under the supervision of the Defense Commission and the defense minister, and has started its elementary stages. But our next program, which will start next week with seminars and courses that will take up to three weeks, will involve all of Afghanistan," Barialai said.

Both Barialai and the UN-backed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul have rejected claims made yesterday about the disarmament program by Mohammad Ismail Zazai, a spokesman for a regiment of the Afghan national army that has been deployed in the southeastern province of Paktiya.

Zazai said yesterday that an ultimatum had been issued jointly by the Afghan government and ISAF warning renegade warlords to turn over their weapons within 10 days or face military action. "Those commanders of mujahedin who are armed and do not belong to any military regiment [of the Afghan national army] are being asked to submit their weapons to the government regiment within 10 days. After that, the ISAF forces will start the process of general disarmament in the province of Paktiya. Those who do not comply will be detained by the ISAF forces in Gardayz. They will be disarmed by ISAF," Zazai said.

Zazai also said that some 200 troops from ISAF had already arrived in Gardayz as part of the operation. But that claim was rejected by the Afghan government, ISAF, and U.S. military officials. All have noted that the UN Security Council resolution that created ISAF strictly prohibits ISAF troops from taking part in operations outside of Kabul Province.

Foreign troops that are active outside of Kabul Province are, instead, part of the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition. Their primary task in Afghanistan, so far, has been to hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

A spokesman for the coalition forces, U.S. Army Colonel Roger King, said Zazai's announcement about the use of international troops is simply wrong.

Earlier this week, King said the U.S. military does plan to expand its humanitarian-aid and reconstruction efforts in southeastern Afghanistan. He said a team of 70 U.S. Army civil-affairs officers, special forces, and security troops would be sent to Paktiya's provincial capital of Gardayz by mid-January.

King said the team would include engineers and medical specialists and would work primarily as a clearinghouse for aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations doing their own projects. Eventually, King said similar teams are expected to work in cities and towns across Afghanistan.

General Barialai also told RFE/RL today that there has been no official deadline for the factional leaders to comply with the disarmament program and that there certainly is not a 10-day deadline to comply. "The matter of 10 days was not official," he said. "The process of collecting weapons, which was discussed at the Ministry of Defense and was announced to the head of the government, was [estimated to take] three to six months. Of course, if there is such an entity that considers itself a part of the Ministry of Defense, and the national army, and uses the weapons against the national interest, then [their deadline will be immediate]," Barialai said.

A decree issued by Karzai from Bonn, Germany, during a conference on Afghan stability earlier this month set out his plan for the creation of a 70,000-strong Afghan national army.

The decree outlines how disarmament is envisioned as a way to incorporate weapons and troops from factional militias into an Afghan army that answers to a civilian administration. The decree says the United Nations and the government of Japan will help the Transitional Authority to prepare a comprehensive disarmament program.

A commission on demobilization is to be created by the Afghan Defense Commission, which includes more than a dozen leaders of factional militias that would be disarmed and incorporated into the national army.

Karzai's decree says that heavy weapons obtained from the factions, such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, field guns, multiple-rocket launchers, and antiaircraft guns, would be integrated into the national army.

Karzai's decree also says that the current organization of the army will be gradually transformed into four major commands: a central command in Kabul along with three other command centers to be determined "on the basis of strategic and geographical factors."