Afghan president moves to replace security chiefs

Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the national intelligence chief Wednesday, and lawmakers said he will submit nominees to replace the defense and interior ministers who were removed earlier this month by parliament.

The president is trying to shore up his shaken security team as his administration struggles to build an army and police force that can fight the Taliban as U.S. and other foreign forces begin to withdraw.

The shakeup could also set up a new showdown with the country's parliament -- which must approve the candidates -- because his reported choice for defense minister was one of the men who had been ousted by lawmakers.

Rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police is the centerpiece of the strategy to leave behind a government that can prevent the Taliban insurgents from again seizing power, more than a decade after the invasion to oust their hard-line Islamist regime for sheltering al-Qaida leaders.

But training efforts have suffered from an alarming number of U.S. and allied deaths by Afghans who turned their weapons on international counterparts.

A statement from Karzai's office Wednesday said Rahtamullah Nabil would step down as National Directorate of Security director because he had finished his two-year term.

It did not name a replacement. However, two senior Afghan officials told The Associated Press that Assadullah Khalid, the minister of tribal and border affairs, would replace Nabil.

Another official close to the president's office said the Cabinet reshuffle could also include replacing the finance minister, the attorney general and the head of the Independent Election Commission. Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal faces allegations of corruption over large deposits in his Dubai bank account, although he denies any wrongdoing.

The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Lawmakers dealt Karzai a blow when they voted to remove two of his top lieutenants on Aug. 4 -- Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top Afghan officials most trusted by Washington, and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.

They cited past security lapses, corruption allegations and outrage at reports of Pakistani cross-border shelling as reasons for the no-confidence vote.

Karzai's office told parliament Wednesday that the president will submit names for replacements "today or tomorrow," said Abdul Qadir Qalatwal, a lawmaker from Zabul province.

One of the nominees is Mohammadi, who would become defense minister, while Deputy Interior Minister Mushtaba Patang would become interior minister, Qalatwal said.

A spokesman for Karzai, Hamid Elmi, confirmed that the president would send nominees for the defense and interior ministries, as well as for a new intelligence chief, "in the near future."

The decisions ended speculation that Karzai might defy parliament by delaying the new appointments for months, as he has done in the past in similar situations.

However, it was unclear if the lawmakers would accept Mohammadi as the new Defense Minister, since several have strongly insisted that Karzai choose a completely new roster.

"Those ministers who were rejected by the parliament will never be confirmed in another vote," said Mohammad Nahim Lalai, a lawmaker from Kandahar.

"The president cannot impose his will on the parliament. We are working on the basis of law," he said. "Less than a month ago, this minister (Mohammadi) was rejected by the parliament and now he wants to send him back as a defense minister?"

The U.S.-led coalition said the new security team will not slow down progress toward building the Afghan security forces.

"We've built a great relationship with the Afghan government," NATO spokesman Jamie Graybeal said Wednesday. "It's a relationship that reaches across various levels of the ministries and will guarantee our strategy for transformation will remain on track."

However, there has been growing concern about progress in building the Afghan national security forces that the U.S. has spent more than $22 billion to train in recent years.

Insider attacks by Afghan forces against their international trainers have been a problem for the U.S.-led military coalition for years, but they recently have become a crisis. There have been at least 33 such attacks so far this year, killing 42 coalition members, mostly Americans. Last year, there were 21 attacks, killing 35; and in 2010 there were 11 attacks with 20 deaths.