Warlords may plunge Afghanistan into new conflict, warns CIA

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The Independent Online

The Central Intelligence Agency says the relative peace that has settled over Afghan-istan since the ejection of the Taliban last year is a fragile one that could quickly be shattered by unresolved rivalries between regional warlords.

Concern was already running high in Washington and London that the interim government of Hamid Karzai, established in December, could be engulfed by a fresh eruption of ethnic violence.

Thenew warnings are laid out in a classified CIA report. They will give ammunition to those arguing that the British-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) should be enlarged and expanded beyond Kabul to other cities.

British paratroops came under fire in Kabul yesterday, leading to fears that they were being attacked in retaliation for shooting dead a civilian and injuring others a few days ago.

The attack took place just after 8.30pm on Wednesday while the soldiers, from the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, were on patrol in western Kabul, in an area previously thought safe. They returned fire, but there were no reports of any casualties, according to an Army spokesman.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, will make the case for expansion to Tony Blair inLondon on Monday. He has repeatedly warned the UN Security Council over recent days that the Isaf force of 4,500 is inadequate. A similar appeal was made by Mr Karzai on his visit last month.

An American official said the report was meant to alert Washington topossibleprob-lems ahead. "Civil war is not imminent, but the seeds are there," he said. Ominous developments include the murder last week of the transport minister, Abdul Rahman, and skirmishes between rival militias in Khost.

The White House said Mr Bush had dispatched his special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, to Kabul "to consult with Karzai, and senior Afghan, UN and other officials, on the situation in Afghanistan and the ongoing war to root out al-Qa'ida."

Washington is divided on the future of Isaf, however. The State Department isfor enlargement, but the Pentagon argues it would divert resources from the other priority, chasing terrorist networks.

* Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, said yesterday a raid by US special forces on two compounds in Afghanistan last month did not hit al-Qa'ida or Taliban members as originally thought. Up to 15 Afghans were killed at one of the compounds in Hazar Qadam, north of Kandahar, in a fight with US soldiers, Mr Rumsfeld said.