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Assembly Security Fears

A confrontation between ISAF and Northern Alliance men highlights security concerns.
By Samander Khan

A stand off between former bodyguards of Ahmed Shah Massoud and ISAF forces in the Loya Jirga compound has underlined how delicate security is around Afghanistan's historic conference.

Four armed men tried to enter the compound with Wali Massoud, the brother of the assassinated Northern Alliance military commander, at around 9 am local time on Tuesday morning. Loya Jirga regulations do not allow people to carry weapons inside the compound so a contingent of German soldiers moved to disarm them.

At one point in the stand off, witnesses said, the two sides were pointing

guns at each other. Some bystanders said the ISAF soldiers beat

the bodyguards.

ISAF spokeswoman Major Angela Herbert commented, "Four armed men entered the restricted area. We tried to take their guns but they didn't let us. We (eventually) arrested them and handed them to the interior ministry for investigation."

One of the soldiers involved, who did not give his name, said, "They are

lucky our men were experienced, and have seen action in Kosovo."

Delegates, particularly from the Pashtun ethnic group, have been

complaining about security arrangements since the start of the grand assembly.

A source close to the United Nations said it had made a mistake in agreeing to allow men from the Amniyat intelligence service - which formally comes under the ministry of interior but is closely associated with Northern Alliance commanders - inside the compound.

Control of the defence and home affairs "power ministries" is one of the key issues at the Loya Jirga. Since the fall of the Taleban last year, Northern Alliance officers have filled these posts and the security services in Kabul are perceived to be under their control.

The original Loya Jirga agreement was for a few Amniyat officers to be at key points alongside ISAF soldiers. But by Monday, when the gathering was due to start, there were many more of the former inside the compound than had been envisaged, and they were moving around on their own.

Security officials at the entrance to the compound threatened a journalist

who was talking to a Pashtun delegate on Tuesday, and others attending the assembly have complained of intimidation.

"There are so many armed men around I feel I am not in the Loya Jirga I am

in a military camp," one delegate from Loghar province said at the podium.

Immediately after the morning incident, ISAF troops began to appear in force around the compound area and the Intercontinental Hotel, where the media centre for the assembly is based.

Contingents from the Afghan National Guard, the first regiment of a new national army being trained by American forces, also turned up in numbers on the main roads between the assembly site at Kabul Polytechnic and the centre of the city.

The deputy of Kabul's security department, Mohammad Khalil Aminzada, said security at the conference was arranged in three concentric circles. The inner belt is held by members of the 600-strong national guard, the second by ISAF and a UN-selected force and the third by interior ministry men.

"Anybody complaining about the interior ministry men can file a complaint, and we will take action," he said, but refused to say how many of them were in the compound, nor the number in plain clothes, citing security concerns.

Samander Khan is an IWPR trainee journalist.

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