MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan – Soldiers piled onto tanks and slowly withdrew from the battlefield on Saturday after skirmishes briefly disrupted a truce between rival warlords in northern Afghanistan.
Commanders loyal to northern Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum (search) said "sporadic shooting" had been reported in the region late Friday, but that it had stopped.
"Everything is peaceful now and we're pulling back from the front line," said Gen. Syad Noorulla. "The tanks are coming out."
Gen. Abdul Sabur, top commander of Dostum's archrival, Atta Mohammed (search), said the violence late Friday was more serious, with battles taking place in two locations west of Mazar-e-Sharif (search). However, he said the fighting ended after a few hours. There was no indication of fresh casualties.
"As we start to trust each other a little more, most troops will be pulled back and returned to their barracks," he said.
The withdrawal was part of a peace agreement that was reached Thursday with help from Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and British Ambassador Ron Nash.
"This is a very positive step," said Maj. Guy Bennett, one of 69 British soldiers based in Mazar-e-Sharif. "But the next 24 hours will be crucial."
Bennett said the British troops were helping to reduce tension, but would not keep the warring sides apart if they battle again.
The fighting started Wednesday and most of it occurred about 12 miles west of Mazar-e-Sharif, home to 1.5 million people and scene of some of the bloodiest battles in the U.S.-led war to oust Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the violence. A government spokesman in Kabul said it was most likely over land disputes or access to water — the cause of repeated clashes in the past two years.
The United Nations said fighting earlier in the week resulted in "high numbers of casualties," but did not have precise figures. Although one side said more than 60 died, the other said it was fewer.
The warring factions are members of the Northern Alliance, which helped U.S.-led forces to topple the Taliban regime in late 2001. Both Mohammed and Dostum are nominally loyal to President Hamid Karzai.