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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 13:44 GMT
Afghan warlord given top job
General Dostum
General Dostum's support is crucial
Afghanistan's new leader Hamid Karzai has appointed the controversial northern warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum as his deputy defence minister.

The announcement suggests General Dostum, who had expressed reservations about the political solution agreed for Afghanistan, is now supporting the new government.

This is a good step for making a national army in Afghanistan

General Abdul Rashid Dostum

General Dostum, who commands a powerful private army of mainly Uzbek fighters from the country's north, said his appointment marked the first step towards creating a national army in Afghanistan.

Correspondents say a national army would undermine the power of regional leaders, often blamed for Afghanistan's years of violent turmoil.

General Dostum commanded the troops who ousted the Taleban from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the first significant victory for the then opposition Northern Alliance.

But he has often changed sides in Afghanistan's complex politics, and forces he commanded in Kabul in the mid-1990s were accused of atrocities against civilians.

No desks

Mr Karzai announced General Dostum's appointment as his cabinet ministers arrived at their offices in Kabul on Monday and got down to work.

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai says peace and stability are his priorities

The interim administration lacks most of the basic tools of government, including desks and computers. The United Nations has contributed $600,000 to purchase necessities.

One of Mr Karzai's first jobs has been to investigate reports that US aircraft killed civilians when they bombed a convoy in eastern Afghanistan last week.

According to the Reuters news agency, Mr Karzai met a survivor of the convoy attack on Monday.

Survivor Haji Wazir Mangal gave Mr Karzai his account of the bombing. But the leader's spokesman, Ustad Stanikzai, had no details of their discussion.

In a new development, a powerful tribal leader has said that the convoy included al-Qaeda and Taleban members as well as local officials.

Amanuallah Zardran, quoted by AFP news agency, said, "They fired an anti-aircraft missile so they are not innocent."

The US military continues to maintain that the convoy was a "valid" Taleban or al-Qaeda target that opened fire on its warplanes.

But survivors and witnesses saying that it was carrying tribal elders to Kabul for Mr Karzai's swearing-in as the new Afghan leader.

There has been speculation that the convoy may have been hit because of incorrect information passed to the Americans by a local group hostile to the elders.

More British troops

A British military source in Kabul said another 200 troops were expected to arrive in Kabul within a week as part of an enabling unit.

British marine and Northern Alliance soldier
Another 1,000 British troops are due for deployment

They will prepare for the more than 1,000 British soldiers who are participating in the international security assistance force.

Mr Karzai said that although the Taleban regime - which harboured Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, suspected of carrying out the 11 September attacks on the US - had been toppled, there were still some rogue fighters holding out in parts of the country.

"Generally the Taleban movement or that regime has completely gone away from Afghanistan. The main terrorist bases associated with them have been removed," he said.

But the mopping up continues.

Mr Karzai was adamant that, with the help of foreign forces, his government would "see to it that terrorism is completely finished in Afghanistan in all its forms."

Mr Karzai said that foreign forces are welcome to stay in his country until all "terrorist elements" have been eliminated.

His defence minister General Mohammed Fahim later said foreign troops would be welcomed for six months.

Mr Karzai, who was sworn in as leader on Saturday, has said his government faces political oblivion unless it can succeed in bringing peace and stability to the country.

He has appealed for billions of dollars in international aid.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The marines feel they have made a good start"
See also:

25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: General Rashid Dostum
22 Dec 01 | South Asia
Karzai pledges peace and stability
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan force takes shape
20 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan holds senior Taleban official
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