Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim insists there is no rift between himself and President Hamid Karzai.
In a hastily arranged news conference Saturday, Mr. Fahim said the two men are a team. He also told reporters that the working relationship among cabinet ministers is -- in the defense minister's words -- "close and positive."
He also criticized Washington Post (newspaper) articles earlier this month as "irresponsible" and "propaganda" for saying relations with Mr. Karzai had soured over the use of U-S Special Forces troops as presidential bodyguards.
President Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, dismissed Afghan military guards loyal to the ethnic Tajik defense minister after Vice President Abdul Qadir was assassinated last month outside government offices in Kabul. Western military instructors have since trained more than 300 Afghan soldiers as presidential palace guards.
Mr. Fahim also confirmed that he supports U-S forces remaining in Afghanistan until the threat from al-Qaida terrorists and Taleban holdouts is eliminated.
Reuters news agency quotes the Defense Minister Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah as saying al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden and former Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar are still alive. The two officials offered no evidence to support the statement. Dr. Abdullah also expressed confidence that the two fugitives will be found.
Meanwhile, British military officials in Kabul say two British soldiers on peacekeeping duty in the capital were shot and killed today. A spokesman (Colonel Simon Levey) told reporters no one else was involved in the incident, but declined to provide further details of the incident.