GONDI VOLGA, Afghanistan – Feuding warlords in northern Afghanistan (search) handed over tanks and cannons to the fledgling national army Tuesday in a move greeted by war-weary residents as a chance for peace after more than two decades of fighting.
The region around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif (search) has been plagued by violence between two powerful factions who helped the United States drive the Taliban (search) from power two years ago.
But after the latest burst of deadly fighting in October drew the ire of the central government, factional leaders agreed to a truce brokered by British peacekeepers that included the impounding of their big guns.
At Gondi Volga, a former Soviet military base some 19 miles east of Mazar-e-Sharif, officials inspected the first results of that month-old accord: dozens of tanks, cannons, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft batteries from the fighters of Atta Mohammed, lined up in a dusty field.
Gen. Ishaq Noori, leading a delegation from the Ministry of Defense in Kabul to the base Monday, said a similar compound to the west of Mazar was filled with heavy cannons and other weapons collected from Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammed's rival.
A battalion of troops from the new U.S.-trained Afghan National Army was at each site to guard the weapons, Noori said.
"Everything is calm. There have been no negative reactions," he said. "This is very important for the national army and for security and peace in this province."
Taming regional warlords and helping their fighters disarm and return to civilian life is seen as crucial to extending the influence of President Hamid Karzai's weak central government and encouraging rebuilding in one of the world's poorest nations.
In the south Monday, an Afghan soldier fighting alongside U.S. forces was killed in a clash with guerillas, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The U.S.-led patrol exchanged fire with unidentified rebels near an American base at Deh Rawood in Uruzgan province, said Maj. Richard Sater, a U.S. military spokesman.
No coalition soldiers were killed or injured in the clash, Sater told reporters at the U.S. military headquarters at Bagram, north of the capital Kabul.
Some 11,700 soldiers from the United States and other countries face stiffening resistance from suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda guerillas, who regularly attack their patrols and bases as well as Afghan troops and officials.
In the U.N.-sponsored disarmament program, hundreds of soldiers have also handed in guns, rockets and tanks in Kunduz, another northern city, and at Gardez near the Pakistani border.
Eventually, the Ministry of Defense and its sponsors hope to disarm and decommission 100,000 Afghan militia members as it creates a new army and police force, though only 6,000 of the new troops are armed so far.
Mazar-e-Sharif residents said they wanted an end to warlord power.
"We have seen a lot of fighting here and we are fed up," said Zulgai, a 52-year-old taxi driver who uses only one name. "We want the United States and the United Nations to disarm the whole of the north and to provide the people with jobs."