MAIMANA, Afghanistan's warlord-turned-first-vice-president has claimed victory in an anti-Taliban military operation he is supervising in his northern stronghold.
Abdul Rashid Dostum blamed Pakistani intelligence for supporting the insurgents who the Afghan army and militias loyal to him are now fighting in the restive northern province of Faryab.
In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Dostum said his forces have scored a "great victory" in this ongoing offensive.
"You don't have to ask me about our success here. Ask our soldiers, ask the locals here; they will explain it to you," he said. "We are victorious here; as you can see, we are only 200 meters away from the Taliban, and we are not shooting at them [because we expect them to surrender soon]."
He said hundreds of Taliban fighters have already surrendered to his forces and hundreds more are expected to do so in the coming days.
Dostum, a former communist general, has a controversial battlefield history. By the late 1980s, the Afghan communist regime was deploying his militia to fight its Islamist enemies in some of its toughest battles across the country.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1992, Dostum became a permanent fixture in the Afghan civil war, and his forces were accused of committing some of the worst abuses in the long internecine conflict.
Earlier, the emergence of the Taliban in Faryab and neighboring northern provinces had threatened his support base in the province and in neighboring Jowzjan, where Uzbeks constitute a majority of residents. Despite opposition, Dostum left the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul to what some officials says is a "morale boosting" role.
His return to the front lines, however, has now raised fears that the 61-year-old Uzbek general's presence might provoke factional and ethnic infighting like that which ravaged Afghanistan multi-ethnic northern regions in the 1990s.
From his home in Jowzjan Province, Dostum has mobilized loyalists among Uzbek communities in neighboring Faryab, which has prompted criticism and worries that the region might slide back into a vicious cycles of violence.
Dostum, however, is adamant that his only aim is to fight the insurgents and is not mobilizing loyalists against Pashtun communities in the region.
"There is a lot of propaganda that General Dostum wants to subjugate the Pashtuns," he said while referring to himself in the characteristic third person. "I am here to express faith in their cooperation. You will soon see that the Pashtuns will gather around me."
In two months of fighting, the Taliban -- estimated to be number more than 3,000 -- have captured hundreds of villages in the Almar, Qaisar, Ghormach, and Pashtun Kot districts of Faryab. The fighting has displaced some 30,000 civilians, according to humanitarian aid agencies.
Dostum said the Afghan forces in Faryab are fighting against Pakistan's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He said the recent bouts of fighting in three Faryab districts -- Qaisar, Almar, and Gormach -- and Bala Murghab in neighboring Badghis province is the result of ISI's backing for local and Central Asia fighters.
"We are fighting against Pakistan's ISI here," he said. "A senior ISI general who operated under [religious] aliases such as Shaikh, Haji, Mawlavi, and Qari was killed here four days ago. "Soon I will show you the grave of the ISI general who was killed here."
Dostum's claim could not be independently verified. Islamabad has always refuted Afghan claims that its spies covertly support Afghan insurgents or are involved in fighting inside Afghanistan.
Dostum said a senior Taliban commander, rumored to be the border affairs minister in the insurgent hierarchy, was injured during the ongoing fighting. He claimed that Qari Zabih, a senior leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), was killed in Faryab recently.
"We are in possession of his [Zabih's] dead body," he said. "Their morale is very low, and they are on the run."
The Afghan vice president is adamant that after reclaiming Faryab from the insurgents, he will lead the fighting against insurgents in Kunduz Province.
Thousands of Taliban fighters and their IMU allies have fought pitched battles and snatched large parts of Kunduz from government forces since the spring.
"After we cleanse these passes [in Faryab], I don't see any hurdles in reclaiming Kunduz," he said.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Rehmatullah Reha from Faryab.