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U.S. soldier hurt in Afghan clash

He was injured in foot; also, warlord feud is simmering

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A U.S. Army special forces soldier was wounded in a clash in southern Afghanistan, the Army said Thursday.

A statement by the U.S. command here said the soldier, who was not identified, was wounded in the foot Wednesday night while "conducting combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."

"The soldier was shot in the foot when his team received hostile enemy fire," the statement said.

No further details were given.

Meanwhile, threats of clashes between rival Afghan warlords simmered Thursday, menacing the country's fragile peace, as U.S. special forces and their Afghan allies pressed their hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban renegades.

In the southern city of Kandahar, the local governor, Gul Agha, accused Iran of sending vehicles and weapons into Afghanistan to undermine the new interim government of Hamid Karzai. Iran is allied with warlord Ismail Khan, a longtime foe of the ethnic Pashtuns who rule Kandahar.

Also, Agha denied claims that he has sent fighters toward Herat, Khan's stronghold, in western Afghanistan.

"We know the Iranian government is sending in vehicles and weapons against Afghanistan," Agha told a pro-democracy rally attended by about 5,000 people. "We haven't sent any militias against them. We are waiting for the interim government of Prime Minister Karzai. I have been in contact with him. Whatever he says, I will do."

The United States has warned Iran to not meddle in Afghanistan, citing reports that Tehran has sent pro-Iranian fighters and money into the country that would destabilize the U.S.-backed central government in Kabul that is still struggling to find its feet after a month in power.

Iran, Pakistan and Russia have long tried to influence events in their volatile neighbor. Tehran was particularly hostile to the former ruling Taliban, which was founded in Kandahar and imposed an extreme brand of Sunni Islam that trampled on Shiite Muslims supported by Tehran.

Fighters and commanders training in Kandahar with a newly created national army said that 2,000 to 2,500 fighters had been sent toward Herat in recent days, ostensibly to fight remnants of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

U.S. special forces troops and their Afghan allies were in Helmand province, between Kandahar and Herat, two days ago conducting house-to-house searches for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader who made Afghanistan a base of operations for bin Laden. No trace of him was found.

Eastern Afghanistan near Khost is a thicket of factional feuding and formerly a major al-Qaida training center. Fighters loyal to rival warlords jockeying to become governor had been reported Wednesday to be vying for control of military and administration installations.

Saleh Mohammed Registani, chief of foreign relations for the Defense Ministry, said in Kabul on Thursday that Khost was calm and that the warlords, Zakim Khan and Bacha Khan Zadran, were in the capital, presumably seeking mediation.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in Pakistan on Thursday and will be traveling to Afghanistan and Iran.

In addition to touching base with U.N. aid officials struggling to help rebuild the shattered country, Annan will urge neighboring countries to support the Karzai government and not encourage regional warlords.

At the U.S. military base at Kandahar airport, the biggest concentration of U.S. forces in the country and site of a temporary holding center for 243 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners, the Army said three U.S. soldiers were injured when their Humvee overturned during a routine patrol.

Two of the injured were treated and returned to duty after the Wednesday night mishap, but the third was evacuated to Oman for further treatment, Capt. Carl Purvis said.

Names of the three were not released, and the Army would not provide details about the patrol. The injured soldiers were from Delta Company, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, the Army said.

The Army's 101st Airborne Division is taking over the base from the Marines, who secured it after the Taliban were ousted. More than 1,200 troops from the 101st have deployed, while the Marines are down to 700 from a high of 1,800.

Flights of detainees out of Kandahar have been suspended while more cells are constructed at a high-security jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is nearly full with 158 prisoners.

In a welcome sign of returning to normalcy, Afghanistan's national carrier made its first international flight in nearly 2 1/2 years, flying a lone Boeing 727 from Kabul to New Delhi. The 12 crew and 13 passengers, including Afghanistan's tourism minister, were greeted on arrival with garlands of marigolds.