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Powerful Afghan Warlord Stripped of Military Command

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is removing the powerful warlord Ismail Khan from his position as a local military commander, as part of a major reshuffling of key provincial posts. The move appears aimed at reining in Mr. Khan and other powerful commanders.

Ismail Khan has enjoyed unrivaled power in the western Afghan province of Herat, where he has served as governor and provincial military commander.

Governor Khan keeps a private army and has been accused of pocketing customs revenues on goods coming across the Iranian border.

Now some of the governor's power is being curbed, as President Karzai has reportedly called on Mr. Khan to step down from his military command.

The move is in line with an earlier central government decree, forbidding officials from holding both military and civilian posts.

President Karzai also is shuffling a number of other key provincial positions. Among the changes, he removed Governor Gul Agha in Kandahar, a similarly powerful warlord noted for his staunch opposition to the ousted Taleban regime.

Mr. Agha will be transferred to the capital to serve as urban affairs minister. The province's military commander, Mohammed Akram, also reportedly will be replaced.

President Karzai's new order is seen as an attempt to strengthen his government's power outside the capital Kabul.

In addition to stripping some powerful warlords from their posts, the president has called for an expansion of the international peacekeeping force that helps provide security for the central government.

On Wednesday, the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, urged the U.N. Security Council to expand the international force, known as ISAF, into the provinces.

ISAF's mandate currently limits it to the area in and around Kabul.

The U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, David Singh, said Thursday that while the final decision on expansion belongs to ISAF itself, the United Nations has long supported deploying the troops into the provinces.