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Warlord Seizes Provincial Capital In Afghanistan, Draws Criticism Karzai

By Carlotta Gall

The New York Times -- KABUL

Forces loyal to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum seized control of the capital of Faryab province in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, forcing the governor to flee and drawing a sharp rebuke from President Hamid Karzai and his ministers in Kabul.

The central government ordered in troops of the Afghan National Army, along with their American trainers, but they arrived too late to prevent the takeover of power. It was more a political coup than a military clash, with just some shooting in the air in the city, witnesses said. But militia loyal to Dostum had seized control in four districts throughout the province, they said.

The governor and his top officials fled in the morning after a demonstration turned violent and protesters began stoning the governor’s office, the interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, told a news briefing. The governor of neighboring Sar-e-Pul province also fled his post, Jalali said. There were no reported casualties.

Dostum was trying to “stamp his authority on the region,” Jalali told journalists on Thursday afternoon. “What General Dostum has done is against all military rules and the constitution of Afghanistan,” he said.

It is the first time that a governor appointed by the central government has been forced from power by an armed faction, and will be a test of Karzai and his government’s ability to reassert control. Dostum is Karzai’s representative in the north and has often voiced support for the central government. Yet he has been an advocate for a federated state and has been reluctant to give up military and economic control of his region.

Coming just two weeks after heavy fighting in the western province of Herat, a time when Afghan National Army troops were also deployed, the power struggle in Faryab highlights the continuing instability and the prevalence of armed militias that are plaguing much of the country.