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Afghanistan VP, ex-Northern Alliance commander dies at 57

KABUL, Afghanistan--Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a leading commander in the alliance that fought the Taliban who was later accused with other warlords of targeting civilian areas during the bloody conflict, died Sunday. He was 57.

Fahim was an ethnic Tajik who was the top deputy of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Northern Alliance commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

President Hamid Karzai's office said Fahim, who held the rank of field marshal, died from an illness in Kabul. The exact cause of death was not immediately known. Fahim had survived several assassination attempts, most recently in 2009 in northern Afghanistan.

His longtime friend and Afghanistan's ambassador to Spain, Masood Khalili, said Fahim “was not feeling good. He had diabetes. He had had two heart operations and three times he had gone to Germany for check-ups.” Khalili was badly wounded in the same suicide bombing that killed Massoud.

Fahim served as defense minister in Karzai's first administration and most recently was the first of two vice presidents. But he was best remembered as a former warlord who fought against the Soviets when they occupied the country and for taking part in the bitter internecine fighting that marked the early 1990s. He went on to battle alongside Massoud against the Taliban.

In a televised address to the nation, Karzai called Fahim his close friend and brother.

“No one can replace him. It is a loss for all of us,” Karzai said. “Fahim was part of every historic decision made for the future of Afghanistan.”

The government also called for a three-day mourning period to begin Monday.

Fahim “started his fight for the liberation of Afghanistan,” when he was barely out of his teens, Khalili said in a telephone interview from Spain.

“He was one of the heroes of Afghanistan. He was the one who stood alongside Massoud. He never accepted the Taliban, their ideas, their government. He was always rejecting al-Qaida as terrorists,” Khalili said.

The Pashtun-dominated Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 and ruled from the capital until they were ousted five years later by the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan allies in the Northern Alliance, made mostly of minorities including ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

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In this Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, Afghanistan's Vice President Field Marshal Mohammed Qasim attends a press conference honoring former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, Afghanistan.

(AP)

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