Traffic in Afghan capital blocked for second day as police battle strongman

KABUL (Reuters) – Traffic in Kabul was blocked for a second successive day on Tuesday as police exchanged gun and rocket fire with the guards of a local strongman who resisted a police order for his eviction from a home in the Afghan capital’s main business area.

The incident in one of Kabul’s most prosperous localities underlines the struggle of the Western-backed government to control powerful figures, whose armored cars carrying heavily armed gunmen are a common sight on the city’s streets.

Afghan officials said at least one policeman was killed and six wounded in the gunbattle with the guards of Tamim Wardak, the owner of a security company whom some officials described as being related to a former defense minister.

Government forces finally arrested Wardak and 18 of his armed men, said interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, after additional forces were despatched to disarm the gunmen and end an impasse that had forced shops and schools nearby to shut.

“One of his guards has been killed, and three wounded, but Wardak and all his men are in custody,” Danish added.

The confrontation began on Monday afternoon, when Wardak’s guards responded to the order for his eviction from a house he had illegally occupied for years by opening fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, security officials said.

Some security officials in Kabul, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said Wardak was a relative of a former defense minister, Rahim Wardak.

The former minister was not immediately available to comment.

Danish added that the government was working on a plan to close all illegal security companies and round up armed men from all over Afghanistan.

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