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Karzai replaces top officials in Afghan Cabinet shake-up

On Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai moved to replace his country's intelligence chief, the mister of defense, and the minister of interior.

By Kay JohnsonAssociated Press / August 29, 2012

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks in Kabul, Afghanistan in July. Karzai dismissed the national intelligence chief Wednesday,and lawmakers said he will submit nominees to replace the defense and interior ministers who were removed earlier this month by parliament.

Ahmad Jamshid/AP/File

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Kabul, Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai moved to replace the country's intelligence chief and the ministers of defense and interior Wednesday, the first step in what senior government officials said was a planned wider Cabinet shake-up aimed at solidifying the president's power before elections and the drawdown of foreign forces.

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The president also is trying to shore up his shaken security team as his administration struggles to build an army and police force in the face of a resurgent Taliban as the US and other foreign forces begin to withdraw. Those coalition's training efforts have increasingly become a target for insurgents — NATO said

Wednesday that three more of its service members were killed by an Afghan wearing an army uniform in the latest in a string of attacks by Afghans on international trainers.

Karzai's latest reshuffle of top officials — if it goes through — appeared to be an attempt to stack the Cabinet and electoral commission with his allies in a bid to retain power behind the scenes after his final five-year term ends and the international troops withdraw in 2014.

"With the elections coming, with the transition ... it is a time for him to re-strengthen his team," said Martine van Bijlert, an expert at the Afghan Analysts Network. "I think we could be seeing a major reshuffle. ... The question is always: Can he make it stick?"

An Afghan official close to the president's office told The Associated Press the head of the country's election commission, the attorney general and the finance minister were expected to be among the top positions to be part of the shake-up. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Nothing is final until there is an official announcement from Karzai, and the president could still change his nominees or leave the government largely untouched. But van Bijlert noted that while rumors of Cabinet shake-ups are common, Karzai may use the window provided by the parliament's sacking of his defense and interior ministers to make wider changes.

However, any changes must be confirmed by parliament, and it is unclear whether Karzai would be able to muster the necessary support from lawmakers, many of whom feel the president too often ignores parliament's constitutional powers, to push his nominees through. There were already grumblings among lawmakers about some of the names that have emerged.

Two senior Afghan officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, told AP that Assadullah Khalid, the minister of tribal and border affairs, would replace Rahtamullah Nabil as the head of the National Directorate of Security — the country's main spy agency. Khalid, a former governor of two provinces, has been criticized for alleged human rights violations and could be a controversial pick.

A statement from Karzai's office Wednesday said Nabil would step down because he had finished his two-year term. It did not name a replacement.

Karzai also plans to name Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, who was ousted from his post as interior minister earlier this month by parliament, as defense minister, and Mushtaba Patang, an ex-police chief in the country's north, as the new interior minister, according to Abdul Qadir Qalatwal, a lawmaker from Zabul province.

He said the president's office had notified parliament of the names.

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