ISLAMABAD, Sept 29: Heavy fighting erupted between two pro-government commanders in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia Sunday leaving nine people dead including a former commander of rebel warlord Padsha Khan, a report said.

Fighting between the forces of commander Abdul Mateen and Raz Mohammad in the town of Sayed Karam, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the provincial capital Gardez, broke out early Sunday and continued late into the evening, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said.

Both sides were using machine-guns, rockets and cannons, it said, quoting witnesses.

“Raz Mohammad was killed in the fighting. I have seen his body with my own eyes,” a witness was quoted as telling AIP.

It said at least nine people from both sides were killed and more than a dozen injured.

The exact cause of fighting was not immediately clear.

Raz Mohammad had been a Khan loyalist but he switched sides last month and joined forces loyal to the provincial government. The move gave him control of Syed Karam district, AIP said.

US official: Washington will remain committed to its military role in Afghanistan regardless of action against Iraq, but will soon shift to peacekeeping duties from combat missions, a senior US defence official said in Kabul on Sunday.

Asked during a one-day visit to Kabul whether there would be a withdrawal of US troops, especially special forces, from Afghanistan, to prepare for action against Iraq, Undersecretary for Defence Douglas Feith said:

“We have a responsibility to Afghanistan that the United States government is committed to fulfilling, no matter what happens elsewhere in the world.”

The war on terror involved many activities globally, “but we’ll be able to do them while we are fulfilling our basic responsibilities here in Afghanistan,” he said.”

He said the US military’s assistance would continue as long as required and any changes in force structure would be dictated by tasks in hand.

“For example, there will undoubtedly, in the near future, be a shift towards more emphasis on stability operations,” he said.—AFP/Reuters

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