KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Government troops intervened in Afghanistan’s latest outbreak of deadly fighting between warlords, flying from the capital to the far west on U.S. and NATO airplanes to retake an air base contested in the violence, officials said Sunday.

Meanwhile, in another illustration of the insecurity dogging the run-up to October elections, Taliban militants killed a community leader for encouraging people to vote and gunned down six Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint, officials said.

The U.S.-trained Afghan National Army’s move in the far western province of Herat was the latest instance of President Hamid Karzai trying to quell local conflicts in a country where large areas are controlled by warlords and their leaders.

And though the soldiers seized the contested airbase at Shindand, 370 miles west of the capital, Kabul, battles continued between the forces of Herat Gov. Ismail Khan and several rival warlords.

One of the rivals, Amanullah, said his men exchanged artillery with Khan’s troops and beat off one attempted offensive Sunday north of Shindand. He said his opponents had brought tanks and rocket-launchers to the front line, but that there were no fresh casualties.

The national army troops moved into the Shindand base overnight. Forces loyal to Amanullah, who captured the base from pro-Khan fighters a day earlier, left without resistance.

“We left and they entered,” said Amanullah, an ethnic Pashtun commander who uses only one name. “All our troops have moved to the front lines.”

A statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office said he was “pleased” with the swift action of the army. Further operations by the warring militias “will not be tolerated,” it said.

But it was not clear how Karzai would resolve a dispute that exposes anew how warlords – not the central government – control swathes of the country more than two years after the fall of the Taliban.

Khan, an ethnic Tajik, has long dominated Herat. Amanullah and at least two other commanders launched simultaneous attacks against Khan’s forces around the province on Friday. They have voiced support for Karzai, a fellow Pashtun.

But some officials in Kabul were quick to denounce them.

“The militia attacked Herat’s legal government,” said Mohammed Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Tajik-led Defense Ministry. “It is an illegal action that benefits Afghanistan’s enemies.”

The national army troops who arrived in Shindand were an advance party of some 1,500 government soldiers leaving the capital on planes provided by the American and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

Trucks loaded with Afghan soldiers rumbled into Kabul airport on Sunday afternoon with U.S. soldiers at the wheel and manning machine-guns mounted on the cabs.

Karzai has sent units from the force – always accompanied by American trainers – to trouble spots across the north and west this year.

The deployments have had a frosty welcome from regional power brokers including Khan, who have also resisted a U.N.-sponsored drive to disarm their private armies, but have faced no major battles.

The United Nations is concerned that the failure to control the warlords leaves Afghanistan’s first-ever presidential election on Oct. 9 vulnerable to intimidation.

About 10 million Afghans have signed up for the election, according to U.N. figures released on Sunday,

the last official day for registration.

Despite anecdotal evidence of fraud and underage registration – the rough estimate of the electorate was only 9.8 million – officials hail the turnout as evidence of Afghans’ yearning for peace.

Voters have signed up despite bombings and shootings blamed on the Taliban that have killed more than 30 election workers and civilians registered for the poll.

In the latest attacks, suspected Taliban beat a tribal council member, Dilber Khan, in Kandahar’s Maruf district for urging people to vote, said district chief Syed Ali. Khan died from his injuries Sunday, Ali said.

Taliban also attacked a checkpoint in southern Kandahar province before dawn Sunday, killing six Afghan soldiers before fleeing, police said.

In another incident, U.S. and Afghan forces backed by helicopters killed seven suspected Taliban and detained 11 more in the remote mountains near Kandahar, the provincial government spokesman said.

Preparations have proceeded regardless, with a huge transport plane from Denmark disgorging 30,000 white plastic ballot boxes in the capital on Sunday.

The registration result “shows the tremendous wish of Afghans to participate,” U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. “People want to leave behind the years of violence.”

AP-ES-08-15-04 1732EDT



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