KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan warlord fought his way to within sight of the outskirts of the capital of the Herat region Tuesday, and the U.S. military sent warplanes on patrol over the area, officials said.
Fighters loyal to Amanullah, a Pashtun militia leader, pushed Gov. Ismail Khan's (search) troops to within 20 miles of the city of Herat, officials from both sides said.
The officials reported that three fighters were killed and seven wounded since Monday, bringing the death toll so far to 25 and adding to Afghanistan's insecurity ahead of crucial October elections.
Abdul Karim Afghan, a commander and spokesman for Amanullah, said his men had captured the Adraskan (search) district and had paused in a mountainous area called Khak-e Shabed.
"We can see the city from here," Afghan told The Associated Press. "If the federal government allows us, we can take it."
That seemed unlikely. The government has condemned Amanullah's action, calling him a warlord.
Ziauddin Mahmoudi, the provincial police chief, confirmed the loss of Adraskan.
He said Khan had gone to the front line to meet American military officials who had flown into the region with Afghan government troops on a mission to quell the fighting.
"The Americans are planning to tell him to retreat, otherwise they and the Afghan National Army (search) will move against him," Mahmoudi said.
He said U.S. warplanes were circling over the area.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. military officials in Kabul.
Hundreds of national army soldiers and their U.S. trainers dispatched to the area stayed out of Tuesday's fighting. But a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the force would soon restore order and suggested it would side with Khan.
Spokesman Jawed Ludin dubbed Amanullah a warlord — a term deeply resented by Afghan militia commanders.
"Let me be quite candid ... whoever is responsible for this breakdown and breach of security will be brought to justice," Ludin said.
Amanullah, contacted by satellite telephone near Shindand air base, which his forces seized on Saturday, said seven of his men were wounded overnight.
Abdul Wahed Tawakali, a spokesman for Khan, said the bodies of three fighters were brought to Herat city on Monday.
Infighting between rival factions has broken out repeatedly across the country, undermining the claims of Afghan and American officials that the country is stabilizing.
The violence could deepen ethnic tension ahead of the Oct. 9 presidential vote, which Karzai hopes to win, and is an unwelcome distraction for the U.S. military as it continues to battle Taliban-led insurgents.
The United Nations fears that the failure to disarm thousands of militia fighters could see the elections marred by intimidation. Security concerns have delayed a vote for parliament until the spring.