US urged to hand over Afghans accused of gun attack on rivals

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The Independent Online

The governor of an eastern Afghan province demanded that American special forces hand over several Afghans who allegedly opened fire yesterday on the region's security chief, killing a bodyguard and wounding two others.

The governor of an eastern Afghan province demanded that American special forces hand over several Afghans who allegedly opened fire yesterday on the region's security chief, killing a bodyguard and wounding two others.

Afghan authorities said the assailants were believed to have been allies of the United States and took refuge in the Americans' fortified airport compound. There was no confirmation from US forces.

The security chief of Khost province, Sur Gul, was said to have escaped uninjured in the attack. There has been a series of violent incidents in the area involving rival groups.

The assailants were believed to have opened fire on the security chief because he had tried to disarm them a day earlier in the Khost public market. Khost's governor, Mohammed Ibrahim, said yesterday: "We will talk again tomorrow with the Americans and I am sure they will hand them over."

Khost, in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, is a volatile city carved into areas controlled by rival warlords. Most of the city is under the control of the US-backed warlord Bacha Khan Zardran, but within his group there are competing factions.

Many Afghans in Khost blame the rising tension on the US for having recruited warlords in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. The warlords are paid for their services, which has triggered clashes among groups eager to win patronage from the Americans.

The men who fired at Sur Gul were reported to be loyal to the nephew of Commander Zardran.

* Britain will extend its leadership of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan beyond next month, when it had planned to hand over its responsibilities, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, told the BBC yesterday. He said Britain could not yet be certain that Turkey, the international community's top choice to take over the mission's leadership, was prepared to do so.

"We said we'd be there for a matter of months... it's going to be extended for a little while, but again in the long march of history this is a limited operation," he said.

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