Officials: Afghan president to fire leaders in volatile provinces

News of shakeup among Afghan civilian, military leaders follows another suicide bombing that killed nine people

Facing an intensified Taliban insurgency, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani plans to fire senior civilian and military leaders in the country's most volatile provinces to reinvigorate the fight against insurgents, officials told The Associated Press.

The news came on the heels of a suicide bombing Monday at a crowded funeral that left two policemen and seven civilians dead. 

With Afghan security forces suffering high casualties in the run-up to the official Dec. 31 end of the U.S. and NATO combat mission, the newly elected president is eager to chart a new course. But the question remains what impact the firings will ultimately have in a war-torn country mired in corruption and riven by complex ethnic rivalries.

Ghani plans to replace officials in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghdis, Ghazni and Nangahar provinces in the east bordering Pakistan and Helmand in the south, presidential spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai told the AP.

"Senior government officials will be replaced," Salarzai said.

The provincial sweep will roll out over the next two to three months and will begin soon, he said.

Areas of all five provinces have been under Taliban control for years, and security forces have suffered record-high casualties as they come under regular attack by insurgents. 

The attacks put pressure on Ghani's new administration, which earlier this month ordered a top-to-bottom review of the country's military and security strategy. The review, which officials say will examine everything from battlefield strategy to the rules of engagement for Afghan security forces, is expected to be completed within six months.

Meanwhile one major resignation came Sunday when Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir stepped down following a string of attacks in the capital over three days that killed four foreigners — including an employee of the British embassy — and several Afghan civilians. On Monday, however, police spokesman Obidullah, who goes by one name like many Afghans, said that the Interior Ministry rejected Zahir's resignation.

Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan in the run-up to the official end of the U.S. and NATO combat mission on Dec. 31, raising concerns about whether local security forces will be able to protect the country as foreign troops shift to a supporting role.

Taj Mohammed Taqwa, chief of the Burka district in the Baghlan province north of Kabul, said that Monday's suicide bomber appeared to be targeting police and local officials, including him, who were among some 1,000 people attending the funeral.

Afghanistan faces a looming challenge as U.S. forces will be reduced to 9,800 by the end of this year, a figure expected to be cut in half by the end of 2015 before a planned complete withdrawal at the end of 2016.

Ghani left Monday for Brussels, where he will meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the foreign ministers of NATO countries. He later will travel to London for a crucial conference to showcase his administration's first efforts to reform the country.

But Ghani's security push also may have had an unintended consequence. Moderate members of the Taliban that Ghani himself hoped to negotiate with may have been sidelined because of it, political analyst Wahid Mozhda said.

"Those we call the moderate Taliban have lost that hope," Mozhda said. "More extremist leaders have taken over and believe that war is their only option."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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