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Afghan Army Chief Confident About Victory Over Insurgents

An Afghan army operation in Faryab on July 25.
An Afghan army operation in Faryab on July 25.

FARYAB, Afghanistan -- One of the key figures responsible for reversing recent rebel advances in northern Afghanistan is sure that there will be a victory over the Taliban.

Afghan National Army Chief of Staff General Qadam Shah Shaheem said the security situation in the northern province of Faryab is improving because of the coordinated effort by Afghan security forces in response to rapid advances by the Taliban and its Central Asian allies during the past few weeks.

"Yesterday, I visited the frontline districts of Almar and Qaysar, and I saw that our forces have high morale and are engaged in restoring security," he told Radio Free Afghanistan on July 27. "Residents of these regions told me security has improved since our forces recently launched a coordinated operation with Faryab's police and intelligence."

Shaheem rejected claims by local lawmakers and community leaders that militants have taken over large swathes of Faryab's territory.

"The enemies of the people of Afghanistan and international terrorists including [members of] Al-Qaeda arrived here recently and are responsible for destabilizing some towns and villages of Faryab," he said. "Apart from one village [near Almar district], none of the areas they dominated was strategically significant and they failed to capture any significant roads or district centers."

Qadam Shah Shaheem
Qadam Shah Shaheem

Faryab, which borders Turkmenistan, has turned into a major flash point following mounting violence and aggressive insurgent advances in recent weeks. The Taliban has extended its traditional spring and summer offensive to the once-peaceful northern provinces of Afghanistan, which borders China and the Central Asian countries Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

The Taliban offensive in these regions has been aided by Central Asian militants mainly associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its splinter faction the Islamic Jihad Union. These militants are positioning themselves to return to their Central Asian homeland after being driven out of their sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas last year.

Since the beginning of 2015, insurgents have captured territory and mounted unprecedented attacks in the northern provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Sar-e Pul. This month, the Taliban encroached into Faryab and reportedly captured parts of the Almar, Qaysar, and Pashtun Kot districts. Locals, however, say insurgents are now active in all parts of Faryab.

Last week, Afghanistan's First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum indicated he will lead the fight against the Taliban in Faryab if the insurgents fail to lay down their arms within a week.

Dostum, a former communist general, controlled Faryab during the anarchic Afghan civil war in the 1990s. Faryab is home to a large population of Dostum's fellow ethnic Uzbeks.

His prominent role in the ongoing fighting in northern Afghanistan has raised questions about whether former warlords are once again pushing to restore their lost power by reviving militias.

Lawmaker Fauzia Raufi disagrees. She represents Faryab Province in Afghan Parliament and is a staunch Dostum supporter.

She told Radio Free Afghanistan that Kabul's inaction has forced Faryab residents to defend themselves by raising volunteer militias and looking toward Dostum as their real leader in these trying times.

"We have nearly 2 million people here, but we have few police officers to protect them," Raufi said. "If we had 10,000 policemen here, we would not have had to resort to raising local volunteer forces."

Shaheem, however, said Kabul is determined to defend Faryab and that Dostum's recent visit and his role in Faryab are a testament to such a commitment.

On July 24, Afghan military helicopters began attacking insurgent targets in Faryab's mountains. The next day, hundreds of Afghan soldiers joined a large numbers of local militia members to reclaim lost territory in Faryab.

Shaheem is adamant that his forces will prevail over the militants. "In the near future, you will witness that we will clear all these regions of the insurgents," he said.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Rehmatullah Reha and Zarif Nazar from Faryab and Prague.