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21 die in Afghan fighting; Karzai warns on drug trade

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Fighting erupted across Afghanistan ahead of a visit yesterday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ten suspected rebels, six police officers, and five medical workers were killed and rockets slammed into the capital.

President Hamid Karzai warned that the militants were receiving support from drug traffickers and that his nation could fall back into the hands of terrorists if its booming heroin trade, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the world's supply, isn't stamped out.

It was the first time Karzai has directly linked the drug trade with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Washington earlier this year criticized Karzai for not being tough enough on narcotics and US officials have said they suspect the insurgency is being partially funded by drug money.

Karzai's comments yesterday at a news conference with Rice were made as his US-backed government is struggling to strengthen a fragile democracy while dealing with a rebellion that has left about 1,400 dead in the past half-year.

''We will have terrorism attacking [us] . . . for quite some time," Karzai warned, before adding that there was ''cooperation between the drug trade and terrorism."

''The question of drugs . . . is one that will determine Afghanistan's future. . . . If we fail [to fight drugs], we will fail as a state eventually and we will fall back in the hands of terrorism."

In the latest violence, five medical workers were killed yesterday as they were returning to Kandahar after treating refugees in a nearby camp, said Dr. Abdul Qadir, director of the UN- and US-sponsored Afghan Help Development Services, which employed the five.

US warplanes also killed 10 suspected Taliban rebels Monday in an attack on their mountain hideout in Uruzgan province, which has long been a hotbed of militant activity, the local governor, Jan Mohammed Khan, said yesterday.

Six police officers were killed by suspected Taliban who ambushed their convoy in the same area a day later, Khan said. One officer was still missing and feared dead.

Four rockets exploded in Kabul just hours before Rice arrived yesterday. One hit a large compound housing the government's intelligence service, but there were no casualties.

The other detonated outside the Canadian ambassador's residence, wounding two guards, one seriously, police said. The other two hit the outskirts of the city.

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