GARDEZ, Afghanistan — After two days of deadly battles, a warlord backed by interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai retreated Friday from his fight for control of this southeastern provincial capital, a setback for Karzai's efforts to put the nation under government control.
Local fighters and residents said they expect more battles once the warlord, Bacha Khan, regroups his men in the rugged mountains surrounding Gardez.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said they now believe that innocent people were among the estimated 15 who were killed and 27 who were captured in a nighttime raid on two remote compounds in Afghanistan last week.
A formal investigation has not been completed, but two senior officials said it appears likely that a mix of Taliban and anti-Taliban fighters were at the site about 60 miles north of Kandahar. U.S. intelligence officers had believed that the compounds were hide-outs for members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, ordered an investigation this week in response to assertions from Afghan government officials that a police chief, his deputy and members of a district council were among those killed or captured.
In Gardez, the fight between Khan and the city's shura, or council, brewed for months, growing primarily out of tribal bad blood. Khan accuses shura members of being Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers, which they deny. Members of the council have met with Karzai and expressed their loyalty.
It is widely believed in the city that Khan was responsible for calling in U.S. airstrikes in December in which 27 people died. The U.S. military has never released results of an investigation of the incident after claims that innocent civilians were targeted.
Residents said they were dismayed during the recent fighting that U.S. forces did not intervene and attempt to prevent a new cycle of violence.
"We looked to the Americans, hoping they would do something," said Abdul Malek, a policeman. "The people of Gardez are a little disappointed in America now."
While the city was rocked by fighting that reportedly killed at least 61 people, U.S. aircraft hovered overhead but did not intervene. Nor did Special Forces troops that were conducting covert operations from an old fort nearby.
The battle was the biggest outbreak of fighting since the Taliban was driven from power.
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Beginning in stories published in 2006, the Afghan warlord Bacha Khan is identified as Pacha Khan Zadran. (Second reference is "Pacha Khan.")
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