Well-known Afghan commander among 23 dead in blast

By Rahim Faiez

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 14 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The wounded included a lawmaker from Balkh province and a former governor of Sar-e-Pul province.

After the blast, shattered glass, blood and other debris covered the site and the wounded were helped from the scene. Afghan Army helicopters and ambulances ferried some of the wounded from rudimentary medical facilities in Aybak to Mazar-i-Sharif, which has larger hospitals. Dead bodies were piled into the back of Afghan security force vehicles and taken from the wedding hall, which has a facade of pillars painted a festive light green and pink. The wedding never happened.

Samangani became famous during Afghanistan's fight against the Soviets, who left the country in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. He became a member of parliament last year and was considered a key leader in Samangan and northern Afghanistan. He was a former military commander under Northern Alliance general Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord. Samangan, a province with about 350,000 people, has in the past been politically split between ethnic Tajik and Uzbek leaders.

The withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of 2014 has spawned fears the country will descend into civil war when the international forces leave.

To prevent that, Karzai needs the Northern Alliance to back his efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. That's because, while Pashtuns make up 42 percent of the population, collectively the minority Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other smaller groups outnumber them. Without minority support, the country risks a de facto partition into a Pashtun south and a "minority" north.

The Taliban have assassinated a handful of Northern Alliance and other minority leaders in recent years.

One of the most prominent was Gen. Daud Daud, an ethnic Tajik, who oversaw police activities in nine northern provinces. He was killed in May 2011 when a Taliban suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up inside a heavily guarded compound as top Afghan and international officials left a meeting. Daud had also served as governor of Takhar province in the north, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics and was a former bodyguard of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Northern Alliance commander who was himself killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Associated Press Writers Amir Shah, Deb Riechmann and Patrick Quinn contributed to this report from Kabul.

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