KABUL — In what may be a worrying sign for the future of Afghanistan, militiamen loyal to the Afghan National Army chief of staff and the bodyguards of a provincial governor exchanged fire on Monday for 20 minutes in the north of the nation, officials said.

Mohammad Alam Sayee, the governor of Jowzjan province, was returning to his compound in the provincial capital Sherberghan, when armed men affiliated with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum moved in on the facility, Sayee’s spokesman, Mohammad Yama Jamili said.

Dostum, a prominent military leader during the 1980s and an infamous anti-Taliban warlord in the ’90s, currently serves in the largely ceremonial role of army chief of staff.

After Sayee took refuge in his compound, tensions escalated and the two sides fired on each other, though no one was injured, according Jamili.

Jowzjan police chief Abdul Aziz Ghairat confirmed that he received a report that Dostum’s men had surrounded the governor’s compound, but said the firefight ended by the time his officers arrived at the scene.

A Dostum spokesman could not be reached for comment Monday, but posts on Dostum’s Twitter account claimed that he had come to Sayee’s compound to discuss elections and that the governor’s men opened fire first.

Shortly after Afghan resistance fighters defeated the Soviets in 1989, the country plunged into a bloody civil war, with rival militia leaders battling each other for territory. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the crossfire. With some of those same warlords still in power, many Afghans fear a return to civil war after international troops withdraw.

Dostum’s forces have been accused of massacring hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, though the investigation into that incident has never been completed. Dostum has denied the accusations.

According to a report in The New York Times in April, the CIA routinely brings bags of cash to President Hamid Karzai in part to allow him to pay off warlords, who still wield enormous power in the country. Dostum reportedly receives up to $100,000 per month from this money.

druzin.heath@stripes.comTwitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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