Battles of Mazar-i-Sharif (1997–98)

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Afghan Civil War (1996–2001 period)
Part of the Afghan Civil War
Date 25 May 25 1997 – 14 August 1998
Location Near Mazar-i-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan
Coordinates: 36°40′N 66°59′E / 36.667°N 66.983°E / 36.667; 66.983
Result Taliban victory and capture of Mazar-e Sharif
Afghanistan Junbishi Forces
Forces loyal to Ismail Khan[citation needed]

Afghan Liberation Party
Hezbe Wahdat
Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
Jamiat-e Islami

Hezbi Islami
Afghanistan Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Commanders and leaders

Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostum

Ismail Khan (POW)
Abdul Malik Pahlawan
Mohammad Mohaqiq
Ahmed Shah Massoud
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Sayed Jafar Naderi

Afghanistan Mohammed Omar
Afghanistan Obaidullah Akhund
Afghanistan Abdul-Razzaq Akhoundzada
Afghanistan Mohammad Ghaus
Afghanistan Ihsanullah Ihsan
Afghanistan Mullah Dadullah
Osama bin Laden

Ayman al-Zawahiri

The Battles of Mazar-e Sharif were a part of the Afghan Civil War and took place in 1997 and 1998 between the forces of Abdul Malik Pahlawan and his Hazara allies, Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan, and the Taliban.


On 25 June 1996, the brother of Abdul Malik Pahlawan, Rasul, was gunned down along with 15 of his bodyguards. In May 1997, angry at Dostum's alleged involvement in this, Malik and other commanders such as Qari Alam Rosekh, General Abdul Majid Rouzi and Abdul Ghaffar Pahlawan met with Taliban commanders Mullah Abdul Razzaq and Mullah Ghaus in Baghdis. There they agreed that Malik would betray Dostum, capture Ismail Khan and take control of the city of Mazar-e Sharif.[1] According to some sources the deal was a three point proposal in which it was agreed that the Taliban would not disarm northern troops, Northern Parties would have complete control over Northern Afghanistan and Malik would co-ordinate with the Taliban to bring about an Islamic dispensation.[2]


Fighting breaks out and Taliban take control[edit]

On 22 May 1997 fighting broke out between Dostum's forces and the Taliban in Andkhoy and Khwaja Dokoh. Massoud sent reinforcements but the Northern Alliance faced heavy losses. Dostum retreated to Mazar-i Sharif and fled to Turkey from Uzbekistan on 24 May, with his family going one day before. On 25 May, Abdul Majid Rouzi arrested Ismail Khan in Baghdis and handed him over to Abdul Razzaq, the governor of Herat where he was sent to Kandahar prison.


Taliban ousted[edit]

Although the exact details of the agreement were not clear, it appears as if the Taliban had failed to take their part. Abdul Razzak was appointed as the head of the Military in the north, rather than Malik, and Malik in compensation was given the insulting position of Deputy Foreign Minister. On 25 May, the Taliban entered Mazar-e Sharif. In the Hazara sections of the city, particularly in the north-east and east areas around Syedabad, local Wahdat commanders and armed "civilians" began to enlist themselves in resistance.

On 30 May, heavy fighting broke out around Syedabad. Taliban fighters were ambushed. At this point, Malik allied his forces with Wahdat, taking thousands of Taliban soldiers prisoner in Maimana, Shiberghan and Mazar-e Sharif. Those taken prisoner in Mazar were brutally and summarily executed and massacred, reportedly under the supervision of Malik's brother General Gul Mohammad Pahlawan.[3] Estimates of the total number killed were about 3,000. Commanders such as Mullah Abdul Razzaq, Mullah Mohammad Ghaus who was the acting Taliban Foreign Minister and State Bank Governor, and Maulvi Ehsanullah were taken prisoner.[4] Furthermore Junbish commanders such as Ghulam Haidar Jawzjani were also captured and killed, along with Salam Pahlawan and Rais Omar Bey.

Taliban counter-attack[edit]

Malik then proceeded to reincorporate Jamiat-e Islami into the city's administration. However after 4 months, in September 1997, the Taliban bombarded the city, laying siege to it for 23 days. Looting, killings by both Malik and Dostum's forces was reported. Soon after, the city was surrendered and taken over by the Taliban.

Recapture of Mazar-e Sharif[edit]

By July 1998 the Taliban had taken control of much of the area north of Herat, including the road linked to Maimana, where Dostum had returned and ousted Malik's forces (and also many Pashtoon civilians living in Faryab). This cut off one of the main supply lines, and on 8 August 1998 the Taliban entered Mazar-e Sharif.

Hezb-e Islam reportedly switched sides and joined the Taliban, having encircled the front lines of Hezbe Wahdat at Qalai-Zaini-Takhta Pul.[5]

The Taliban then proceeded to enter the city where they retaliated against Hazara and Uzbek warlords. In Qalai-Zaini-Takhta Pul about 1,500–3,000 Wahdat fighters were trapped. Many were executed on the spot, while approximately 700 attempted to flee in pick up trucks, many being killed on the way. Commanders of Wahdat such as Muhammad Muhaqiq evacuated by helicopter.

One group, Sipah-i Sahaba, associated with Pakistan and the Taliban, also captured the Iranian consulate and shot dead one journalist and eight intelligence and diplomatic officers.[6]

1997 massacre of Taliban prisoners[edit]

It is reported that between May and July 1997 Abdul Malik Pahlawan executed thousands of Taliban members, that he personally did many of the killings by slaughtering the prisoners. "He is widely believed to have been responsible for the brutal massacre of up to 3,000 Taliban prisoners after inviting them into Mazar-i-Sharif."[7] Several of the Taliban escaped the slaughtering and reported what had happened.

In retaliation for this incident, other shocked and furious Taliban came to the city on August 8, 1998, and retaliated against Hazara and Uzbek warlords. Soon after, the city was surrendered and taken over by the Taliban. It was this capture of Mazar-i-Sharif, the last major city in Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban, that prompted Pakistan's recognition of the Taliban regime. Soon afterward, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia extended official recognition to the regime, while Turkmenistan resumed relations – although the Taliban were not officially recognized by Turkmenbashi as the rulers of Afghanistan.

In December 2001 during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it was reported that Dostum's forces, who were fighting the Taliban alongside the US Special Forces, intentionally suffocated as many as 3,000 Taliban prisoners in container trucks in an incident that has become known as the Dasht-i-Leili.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] Dasht-i-Leili massacre was carried out by the notorious Uzbek warlord Dostum, where between 250 and 3,000 Taliban prisoners were shot and/or suffocated to death in metal truck containers, while being transferred by U.S. and Junbish-i Milli soldiers from Kunduz to Sheberghan prison in Afghanistan. The site of the graves is believed to be in the Dasht-i-Leili desert just west of Sheberghan, in the Jowzjan Province.


  1. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project. "Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978–2001." 2005. Accessed at: [Accessed on 10 November 2009], page 115
  2. ^ Matinuddin, Kamal. The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994–1997, p. 100, at Google Books
  3. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project, 116
  4. ^ Matinuddin, Kamal. "The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994–1997," page 100
  5. ^ Afghanistan Justice project, 120
  6. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project, 121
  7. ^ "Afghan powerbrokers: Who's who". BBC News. November 19, 2001. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  8. ^ "The Death Convoy Of Afghanistan". Newsweek. 25 August 2002. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  9. ^ "PHR Activities and Investigations Concerning the Mass Gravesite at Dasht-e-Leili Near Sheberghan, Afghanistan". Physicians for Human Rights. Retrieved 7 July 2009. 
  10. ^ Filkins, Dexter; Gall, Carlotta (23 November 2001). "A Nation challenged: Siege; Fierce Fighting Erupts Near Kunduz, Despite Surrender Deal". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  11. ^ Oppel Jr, Richard A. (8 August 2009). "Afghan Leader Courts the Warlord Vote". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  12. ^ Gall, Carlotta; Landler, Mark (5 January 2002). "A Nation challenged: The captives; Prison Packed With Taliban Raises Concern". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  13. ^ Rich Oppel (18 July 2009). "Afghan Warlord Denies Links to '01 Killings". New York Times. Retrieved 30 July 2009. 
  14. ^ Dostum, Abdul Rashid (17 July 2009). "It Is Impossible Prisoners Were Abused". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Archived from the original on 1 August 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2009.