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Central & South Asia
Karzai pledges to rebuild Marjah
Residents of Afghan town complain of violations after offensive against Taliban.
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2010 13:59 GMT
The offensive in Marjah was seen as a test of a US strategy to win control of Taliban-held areas [Reuters]

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, has pledged to rebuild the southern Afghan town of Marjah following a Nato-led operation to take control of the area from the Taliban.

Karzai visited the former Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province on Sunday, in his first trip to the town since US, Nato and Afghan troops launched a major military offensive in the region inFebruary.

He met with about 300 local elders in a mosque in central Marjah, where he urged them to support his government in return for security and reconstruction projects.

"Today, I'm here to listen to you and hear your problems," Karzai, who was joined by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said.

"The promises that we have made for security and reconstruction, we will fulfil them. Are you against me or with me? Are you going to support me?"

The elders raised their hands and shouted, "We are with you. We are supporting you."

Losing patience

But the elders also complained about looted shops, house searches, civilian casualties, arrests and instances of international forces using schools as military bases during the offensive.

The said they wanted clinics and schools, and were losing patience with the central government's inability to provide services.

In depth

  Operation Moshtarak at a glance
  Gallery: Operation Moshtarak
  Video: Interview with US commander in Helmand
  Video: Taliban fighter says Nato losing Afghan support
  Video: Civilians flee Marjah fighting
  Focus: To win over Afghans, US must listen
  Timeline: Afghanistan in crisis

The Marjah offensive was an early test of the new strategy of Barack Obama, the US president, to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to win control of Taliban-held areas and put in a civilian administration.

"The people told me of their problems with sincerity and  clarity. God willing, we will try to solve your problems," Karzai told reporters after the meeting.

"I'm glad that I had the opportunity to meet people and talk to them. At the same time it's a source of sadness that these people have suffered by the Afghan government and the foreigners."

Karzai's visit came amid reports of clashes between the Taliban and rival fighters in the northeast of the country.

At least 50 fighters were killed after the clash in Baghlan province, Afghan officials said.

Mohammad Akbar Barakzai, the governor of Baghlan, said that Sunday's fighting was continuing, with the fighters using heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Zalmai Mangal, a local police official, said the fighting appears to have resulted from a power struggle between local Taliban forces and the Hezb-e-Islami faction loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a powerful regional commander.

Among the dead were 35 fighters from Hezb-e-Islami and 15 from the Taliban, Mangal said.

Battle for control

He said that Taliban fighters reportedly had moved into villages that traditionally were controlled by Hezb-e-Islami before the clashes began.

Officials said that the fighters were apparently battling for control of several villages where the central government has almost no presence.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, the Afghan capital, said: "There's been fighting in the north of Afghanistan, very near the very top of the country.

"That battle is between the Taliban and the group that's normally seen as one of the Taliban's allies - Hezb-e-Islami.

"We had this confirmed to Al Jazeera by Hezb-e-Islami commander. They say that their Hezb-e-Islami forces were told to swear allegiance to Mullar Omar [the Taliban leader].

"They say they are allies [and that] they don't take direct orders from the Taliban. And these clashes have been under way, we understand, for more than 24 hours. Government sources are telling us that at least 50 fighters on both sides have been killed."

Violent clashes between anti-government fighters are rare, although various militias have their own agendas and power struggles are relatively common.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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