NYT : A Would-Be Warlord Is Given Short Shrift by New Rulers

Sunday, December 16, 2001

A NATION CHALLENGED: DISSENSION; A Would-Be Warlord Is Given Short Shrift by New Rulers

By CARLOTTA GALL | December 16, 2001

Northern Alliance soldiers forced Sayed Jaffar, the would-be governor of Baghlan province, to flee his home here and take to the mountains with his men.

Mr. Jaffar, 35, the American-educated son of a family that has traditionally held the governorship, tried to take the city of Pul-i-Khumri by force on Wednesday but was quickly repulsed by Northern Alliance troops in charge of the town.

A combined force of Tajik soldiers and Pashtun former Taliban fighters who have joined the Northern Alliance pursued him, hilltop by hilltop, from Pul-i-Khumri, to his home village here.

They rode up the mountain paths in pickups, swinging their legs and weapons over the side, hauling up anti-aircraft guns and multiple rocket launchers on heavy military trucks.

The Northern Alliance and the government in Kabul have acted firmly against Mr. Jaffar's attempts to win power by force. They have accused the United States of assisting him and calling in airstrikes against them on Wednesday during his attack on Pul-i-Khumri, an accusation the United States has denied.

Mr. Jaffar does not present a great military threat. The son of the feudal and spiritual leader of Afghanistan's Ismaili sect, an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam, he is no battle-hardened warlord and his bid for more power has been swiftly crushed. An alliance defense ministry representative, Mohammed Farid, said the government would not tolerate any action by individuals who tried to take power by force. He said the government was determined to establish security for all citizens. ''Fighting is not the way, and we will not allow it to start again,'' he said.

By afternoon, after a barrage of shells battered the hills around him, Mr. Jaffar and his cousin, Harun, the commander of some of his troops, offered to surrender, contacting the Northern Alliance general, Khalil Anderabi, by walkie-talkie.

''I am not a Talib, why are you fighting with me?'' Harun complained over the handset.

Standing on a hilltop just a mile from Kayan, General Anderabi took the call in front of his soldiers. ''I know you are not a Talib but you wanted to come with a thousand men to attack Pul-i-Khumri,'' he replied.

Harun vowed that his cousin had not intended to attack the town, only to meet and talk. General Anderabi called on them both to surrender. ''We are brothers, dear Harun, and close friends. We should stop fighting and solve this by negotiations.''

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Jaffar came on the line and agreed to surrender, asking that Northern Alliance soldiers not enter his village. But as he began to lay down conditions, the negotiations broke down and the Northern Alliance resumed their shelling.

Soldiers listening in on their walkie-talkies caught Mr. Jaffar ordering his men to pull out of the village and head for the mountains. He asked one of his commanders for a donkey for the trip. Northern Alliance soldiers laughingly broke in and said they would provide a donkey.

Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai, an alliance deputy defense minister, said tonight he hoped to negotiate with Mr. Jaffar and end the dispute peacefully. He mentioned the possibility of providing a helicopter to get Mr. Jaffar out of the area.

Four men fighting for Mr. Jaffar, who were taken prisoner and held briefly. said they had been paid to join his force and move on Pul-i-Khumri.

''He said we would go as peacekeepers, that we would go to ensure security for the people,'' said Nurullah, 24, who was wounded in the arm. The four were disarmed and then released quickly.

NYT : Anti-Taliban Factions Clash in North

Thursday, December 13, 2001

A NATION CHALLENGED: DISSENSION; Anti-Taliban Factions Clash in North

By CARLOTTA GALL | December 13, 2001

This northern Afghan town erupted in violence today as two anti-Taliban factions clashed, amid reports -- later denied by the Pentagon -- that American warplanes had intervened and bombed both sides.

Two Northern Alliance generals said the fighting began when troops loyal to Sayed Jaffar, the former governor of Baghlan Province, attacked the Northern Alliance soldiers stationed in Pul-i-Khumri, a town just south of Kunduz.

The issue was turf, they said. Sayed Jaffar had left Afghanistan in recent years, but returned this fall and wanted to govern again. He was angry, they said, that the Northern Alliance soldiers from the Panjshir Valley, primarily ethnic Tajiks, were in control of the region.

General Atiqullah Baryalai, deputy defense minister for the Northern Alliance, said that Sayed Jaffar was supported by American aircraft, and that one armored vehicle was destroyed and 20 Northern Alliance soldiers were killed or wounded.

''The Americans bombed us,'' he said. ''It was a very bad mistake. I called them and asked them to stop, and they said they were sorry but they kept bombing.''

But the chief spokesman for the United States Central Command denied that American warplanes had bombed Northern Alliance positions. ''The only place we've bombed since the fall of Kandahar has been the Tora Bora area,'' said Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley. Admiral Quigley said he could not explain the reports of air strikes, adding that the Northern Alliance factions do not have combat aircraft.

If American planes did, indeed, bomb Northern Alliance units, it would not be the first time in the war. Two weeks ago, when the city of Kunduz fell, an American plane attacked a Northern Alliance position in a historic mud fortress inside the city, destroying seven trucks and killing several soldiers. Tajik soldiers blamed that attack on a rival warlord, saying he had called for the air strike on them because he was angry that he did not take the fortress first.

As ground forces here exchanged fire today, stray bullets and shells landed in the town. By afternoon military and civilian casualties began arriving in its two hospitals. A boy of 12 was paralyzed by a bullet to the chest, and a bride of 16 and her mother-in-law were hit by shrapnel when a shell landed by their home.

Gen. Daoud Khan, a Northern Alliance commander in Taliqan, said that in spite of the casualties the Northern Alliance held all of their positions, and Sayed Jaffar withdrew his forces for the night.

''He attacked us, and we defeated him, and he went back to his place,'' the general said.

By moving his newly assembled troops up to positions overlooking the town, Sayed Jaffar appears to have initiated the fighting. Up on the heights with his troops, he could not be reached for comment today. His cousin and representative in Pul-i-Khumri, Sayed Hasanmuddin, and Dr. Shahahmuddin, the commander of one of his military units, said they had not spoken with him since Tuesday afternoon.

Sitting in their house in Pul-i-Khumri, surrounded by guards, they said they thought two groups had clashed by mistake.

Northern Alliance troops accused Sayed Jaffar of trying to seize control of Pul-i-Khumri, and they fired shells at targets on the mountain ridge above the town. Heavy explosions shook the town as shells fired from the mountains came back in reply. Four times during the afternoon jets struck the barren brown mountains, the red flash of the impact and the deafening crack of the explosion sending people ducking for cover.

''I do not know why America is doing that'' said Gen. Khalil Anderabi, the commander of the alliance forces in Pul-i-Khumri. ''We had to fight other groups in the past, and then the Taliban, but now America? What is the matter? They better send their representatives here to see what is happening here.''

If American jets were not involved in the bombing, it is not clear whose planes could have been. But it led to intense debate and confusion on the ground.

Soldiers and townspeople suggested that America was siding with Sayed Jaffar in his efforts to gain control of the town. Others said American planes may have been firing a warning to both sides to stop fighting.

General Anderabi and other commanders said they believed Sayed Jaffar had tricked American forces into believing that there were remnants of Taliban forces in the mountains who should be attacked with air strikes.

''But we captured all the Taliban when we took the town,'' General Anderabi said. ''We have about 350 Taliban prisoners here. So where are the Taliban positions? America is fighting against our division.''

He said air strikes had killed 30 of his men today and injured 40. As he spoke a voice crackled over his walkie-talkie reporting six or seven soldiers dead in one strike. The numbers could not be immediately verified. Thirteen soldiers were brought to the military hospital, injured when their vehicle overturned, doctors said. Unlike liaison programs in Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif, no American special forces are believed to be working with Northern Alliance troops in Pul-i-Khumri.

There were suggestions, however, that Sayed Jaffar's men were receiving some American assistance. A large column of trucks and pick-ups carrying several hundred of his soldiers moved up a mountain road to the mountain heights east of Pul-i-Khumri on Tuesday. Among them were two trucks with American equipment and back packs. It was not clear if American personnel were inside the vehicles.

Sayed Jaffar's soldiers were dressed in new padded winter clothing provided by the United States to Northern Alliance forces. They carried new weapons, which one of Sayed Jaffar's officers said had also been provided by the United States.

It is clear, however, that there is a struggle for power here.

Sayed Jaffar's family not only are feudal leaders of the Ismaili people in Afghanistan, but traditionally their family has held the position of governor of Pul-i-Khumri. Sayed Jaffar represented his father Sayed Mansur, the leader of Afghanistan's Ismaili community, who lives abroad, and filled the role of governor when the Northern Alliance was in power between 1992 to 1996.

He fled with his family when the Taliban took power and went to live in neighboring Uzbekistan but returned after the Taliban collapsed last month, brought in by the Northern Alliance, which provided him with security.

But the Northern Alliance commanders, who stayed and fought the Taliban for five years, say they have little time for Sayed Jaffar, who sat out the war in comfort and now expects to regain his old position.

''When the Taliban came he took a helicopter and escaped and he left his people behind, and did nothing to help them,'' General Anderabi said. ''We want a governor who helped the people and was here all the time.''

The Northern Alliance forces have the stronger force here. They have about 5,000 battle-hardened troops in and around the town, against Sayed Jaffar's newly assembled force, estimated at 700. General Anderabi said his men had already captured two bases belonging to Sayed Jaffar's troops on the edge of town and arrested some of the guards. They had taken five men prisoner on the front line too, he said.

The Northern Alliance defense minister, General Fahim, was in touch with both sides today, to try to put an end to the clash and also with United States forces to receive an explanation of the air strikes, Gen Anderabi said.