Afghan President Hamid Karzai moves to replace security chiefs

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures toward a journalist, not pictured, at the end of his press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 26, 2012.
AP Photo

(AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid 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.

The president is trying to shore up his shaken security team as his administration struggles to build an army and police force that can fight the Taliban as U.S. and other foreign forces begin to withdraw.

The shakeup could also set up a new showdown with the country's parliament — which must approve the candidates — because his reported choice for defense minister was one of the men who had been ousted by lawmakers.

Rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police is the centerpiece of the strategy to leave behind a government that can prevent the Taliban insurgents from again seizing power, more than a decade after the invasion to oust their hard-line Islamist regime for sheltering al Qaeda leaders.

But training efforts have suffered from an alarming number of U.S. and allied deaths by Afghans who turned their weapons on international counterparts.

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A statement from Karzai's office Wednesday said Rahtamullah Nabil would step down as National Directorate of Security director because he had finished his two-year term.

It did not name a replacement. However, two senior Afghan officials told The Associated Press that Assadullah Khalid, the minister of tribal and border affairs, would replace Nabil.

Another official close to the president's office said the Cabinet reshuffle could also include replacing the finance minister, the attorney general and the head of the Independent Election Commission. Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal faces allegations of corruption over large deposits in his Dubai bank account, although he denies any wrongdoing.

The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Lawmakers dealt Karzai a blow when they voted to remove two of his top lieutenants on Aug. 4 — Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top Afghan officials most trusted by Washington, and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.

They cited past security lapses, corruption allegations and outrage at reports of Pakistani cross-border shelling as reasons for the no-confidence vote.

Karzai's office told parliament Wednesday that the president will submit names for replacements "today or tomorrow," said Abdul Qadir Qalatwal, a lawmaker from Zabul province.