50 Killed as Taliban, Rival Militants Battle in Afghanistan

Gunbattles between the Taliban and another Islamist faction have killed at least 50 people in northeastern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday. The militants are apparently fighting for control of several villages where the central government has almost no presence.

The fighting was continuing Sunday, with militants using heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the governor of Baghlan province said.

Local police official Zalmai Mangal said the fighting in the northeastern province appears to be a power struggle between local Taliban forces and the Hezb-e-Islami militia loyal to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Violent clashes between anti-government Islamist factions are rare, although various militias have their own agendas and power struggles are relatively common.

Mangal, the province's deputy police chief, said reports from the area indicate that at least 50 militant fighters were dead, 35 from Hezb-e-Islami and 15 from the Taliban. He spoke by telephone from a district near the fighting where government forces have rushed to observe and try to help any wounded civilians.

It was unclear what touched off the fighting, which erupted Saturday morning and continued late into the night, resuming Sunday, Mangal said. However, he said that Taliban fighters reportedly had moved into villages that traditionally were controlled by Hezb-e-Islami.

Provincial Gov. Mohammad Akbar Barakzai also said that 50 militants were reported killed, though he did not have a breakdown of the casualties.

The fighting centered around five to six villages west of Baghlan-e-Jadid district in the central part of the province, Barakzai said.

"We don't know yet about casualties among civilians or damage to civilian houses," he said.