Accessibility links

Breaking News

Dostum Expected To Lead Northern Anti-Taliban Offensive

Abdul Rashid Dostum
Abdul Rashid Dostum

A former Afghan general who once fought the anti-communist guerillas in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s is expected to lead a major push against insurgents in northern Afghanistan.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan's first vice president, is poised to test his military prowess by once again leading the fight against the Taliban and their hard-line Central Asian militant allies on his home turf.

Officials and pro-government militia are eagerly awaiting his arrival in Faryab, where the Taliban have captured large swathes of territory after focusing their traditional spring and summer offensive on the once-peaceful northern Afghan provinces that border Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Lawmaker Sayed Abdul Baqi Hashmi heads the council in Faryab. He says Dostum's arrival will reinvigorate a patchy government response to insurgent advances that have seized more than 100 villages in recent weeks.

"The leaders of Faryab's anti-Taliban uprising and security officials are waiting for his arrival," Hashmi told Radio Free Afghanistan. "We will begin a massive clearing operation in all parts of Faryab under his command."

Faryab borders Turkmenistan and in recent weeks has turned into a major flash point following mounting violence and aggressive advances by the Taliban and its Central Asian allies, chiefly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Sar-e Pul provinces of northern Afghanistan.

Hashmi says parts of the Almar, Qaysar, and Pashtun Kot districts are under insurgent control. Local officials say insurgents are now active in most of the 15 districts in Faryab.

At his home in neighboring Jowzjan Province on July 21, Dostum held a meeting of key Afghan security forces leaders to apparently work out a campaign strategy for Faryab.

"For at least 39 years, I wore the military uniform, and I don't remember returning from a single battle, small or big, without implementing our plan and taking back the geography," Dostum told Afghan troops, according to The New York Times.

"Even if it took one month, two months, three months or 100, 200, or even 1,000 casualties in a day," he added.

But his plans to visit Almar district on July 22 were reportedly shunned after a suicide attack there. Afghan officials say at least 15 people were killed after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in a crowded market in Almar.

In a sign of solidarity with the region, Dostum visited Faryab's capital, Maimana, on July 17 during the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He assured locals of government support and reiterated his willingness to lead the anti-Taliban fight in northern Afghanistan.

Dostum called on the Taliban to lay down their weapons and join the peace process. This month, Kabul held it first direct talks with the Taliban in Pakistan.

On July 20, spokesman Sultan Faizi said Dostum had asked insurgents active in northern Afghanistan to surrender within a week or join the peace process.

Last month, Dostum joined forces with archrival Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of northern Balkh Province. Supporters say their alliance is aimed at stopping the Taliban from gaining ground in northern Afghanistan. Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy to the Afghan chief executive, later joined the alliance.

These three senior officials led major factions during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s.

Alim Rahmanyar contributed reporting from Jowzjan, Afghanistan.