Abdul Rashid Dostum
Abdul Rashid Dostum
Abdul Rashid Dostum in 2002
|Native name||عبدالرشید دوستم|
|Born||1954 (age 59–60)
|Allegiance||Islamic Republic of Afghanistan|
|Years of service||1978 –|
|Battles/wars||Soviet war in Afghanistan
Civil war in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001-present)
Abdul Rashid Dostum ( pronunciation (help·info): AHB-dəl rah-SHEED dohs-TOOM;[needs IPA] Persian: عبدالرشید دوستم) is a former army general during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and considered by many to be the leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek community. He is currently part of the leadership council of the National Front of Afghanistan along with Ahmad Zia Massoud and Mohammad Mohaqiq, as well as chairman of his own political party Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) or commonly known as Jumbish. He is also Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Afghan National Army, a role often viewed as ceremonial. He participated in battles against the Mujahideen fighters in the 1980s as well as against the Taliban in the 1990s.
Dostum was born in Khvajeh Do Kuh, Afghanistan. In June 1970 he began to work in a state-owned gas refinery in Sheberghan, Jowzjan Province, participating in union politics, as the new government started to arm the staff of the workers in the oil and gas refineries. The reason for this was to create "groups for the defense of the revolution". Because of the new communist ideas entering Afghanistan in the 1970s, he enlisted in the army in 1978. Dostum received his basic military training in Jalalabad. His squadron was deployed in the rural areas around Sheberghan, under the auspices of the Ministry of National Security.
By the mid-1980s his platoon had grown in stature, reaching company status. By the mid-1980s he was in command of over 20,000 militia and was considered to be equivalent to a regimental commander. While the unit recruited throughout Jowzjan and had a relatively broad base, many of its early troops and commanders came from Dostum's home village, Khoja Dukoh. These represented the core of the unit both at that juncture and again when it was reconstituted after the American Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He left the army after the purge of Parchamis, but returned after the Soviet occupation began.
Soviet war in Afghanistan
As the situation in the Republic of Afghanistan deteriorated with massive uprising occurring all over the country, the then prime minister Hafizullah Amin, seized control when he overthrew president Nur Mohammad Taraki. The KGB reported that Amin sought to cut ties with the Soviet Union and instead ally itself with the People's Republic of China and Pakistan. This prompted the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan and assassinate president Amin in 1979. Soviet military commander announced to Radio Kabul that Afghanistan had been "liberated" from Amin's rule.
Mujahideen attacks were still a problem in the country. By this time Dostum was commanding a militia battalion to fight and rout rebel forces. This eventually became a regiment and later became incorporated into the defense forces as the 53rd Infantry Division. Dostum and his new division reported directly to then-President Mohammad Najibullah. Later on he became the commander of the military unit 374 in Jowzjan. He defended the communist Republic of Afghanistan against the American and Pakistani-backed Jihadi militias in the 1980s. While he was only a regional commander, he had largely raised his forces by himself. The Jowzjani militia Dostum controlled was one of the few militia forces in the country which was able to be deployed outside its own region. They were deployed in Qandahar in 1988 when Soviet forces withdrew in 1989.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the communist regime faced economic problems. The new Russian government did not want anything to do with their old communist allies. So they stopped sending supplies to the country, which triggered an economic crisis in the country. The Soviet Union was Afghanistan's main trading partner from the start in 1978. This eventually led to government officials swapping allegiances and would eventually lead to Mohammad Najibullah's government's fall in 1992.
Dostum's men would become an important force in the fall of Kabul in 1992. In April 1992, the opposition forces began their march to Kabul against the government of Najibullah. Dostum had allied himself with the opposition commanders Ahmad Shah Massoud and Sayed Jafar Naderi, the head of the Isma'ili community, and together they captured the capital city. He and Massoud fought in a coalition against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Massoud and Dostum's forces joined together to defend Kabul against Hekmatyar, with some 4000-5000 of his troops, units of his Shiberghan-based 53rd Division and Balkh-based Guards Division, garrisoning Bala Hissar fort, Maranjan Hill, and Khwaja Rawash International Airport. In 1994, Dostum allied himself with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Following the rise of the Taliban and their capture of Kabul, Dostum aligned himself with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. He stationed his troops in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The United Front, commonly known as the Northern Alliance, was established in late 1996 by Dostum, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Karim Khalili against the Pakistan-backed Taliban. They vowed to set up a non-fundamentalist government in the provinces under their control.
At this point he is said to have had a force of some 50,000 men supported by both aircraft and tanks. He ruled what was, in effect, an independent region. He printed his own Afghan currency and ran a small airline named Balkh Air. Unlike the Taliban controlled south, people in the North were able to watch television, play music and women were able to attend classes at the University of Balkh.
Much like other northern alliance leaders, Dostum also faced infighting within his group and was later forced to surrender his power to General Abdul Malik Pahlawan one of his military commanders who accused Dostum for the murder of his brother Rasul. Malik entered into secret negotiations with the Taliban, who promised to respect his authority over much of Northern Afghanistan, in exchange for Ismail Khan, one of their enemies. Accordingly, on 25 May 1997 Malik arrested Khan and handed him over and let the Taliban enter Mazari Sharif, giving them control over most of Northern Afghanistan. Because of this, Dostum was forced to flee to Turkey. However, Malik soon realized that the Taliban were not sincere with their promises as he saw his men being disarmed. He then rejoined Northern Alliance, and turned against his erstwhile allies, driving them from Mazar-i-Sharif. In October 1997, Dostum returned from exile and retook charge. Malik escaped to Iran. After Dostum briefly regained control of Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban returned in 1998 and he fled to Turkey.
US invasion of Afghanistan
Dostum returned in 2001 to join the campaign against Taliban. Along with General Fahim, Ismail Khan and Mohammad Mohaqiq. In November 2001, with the beginning of the US invasion of Afghanistan, and against the wishes of the CIA who distrusted Dostum, a team including Johnny Micheal Spann landed to set up communications in the Dar-e-Suf. A few hours later 23 men of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595 landed to begin the war.
On 24 November 2001, 300 Taliban soldiers retreated after the Siege of Kunduz by American and Afghan military forces. The Taliban laid down their weapons a few miles from the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. They eventually surrendered to Dostum. A small group of armed foreign fighters were transferred to the 19th century prison fortress, Qala-i-Jangi. These hardcore jihadis used concealed weapons to start the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi against the Northern Alliance and British and American forces. The uprising was eventually brought under control.
There were unproven allegations in 2001 that Dostum's men, who were fighting the Taliban alongside the US Special Forces, intentionally suffocated as many as 2,000 prisoners in container trucks following the Taliban surrender of Kunduz in an incident that has become known as the Dasht-i-Leili massacre. Dostum however, strongly denies the allegations according to his official website.
Dostum served as deputy defense minister in Karzai government. In March 2003, He established a North Zone of Afghanistan, against the wishes of interim president Hamid Karzai. On 20 May 2003, Dostum narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.
In the aftermath of Taliban's removal from northern Afghanistan, forces loyal to Dostum frequently clashed with forces loyal to Tajik General Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor. Atta's men kidnapped and killed a number of Dostum's men and constantly agitated to gain control of Mazar i Sharif. Through the political mediations of the Karzai regime, the U.S.-led international military coalition, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, as well as the UN-run Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program, the Dostum-Atta feud has largely ended. The two are now generally politically allied as part of a broader ideological effort to protect the interests of Afghanistan's war veterans like themselves.
Time in Turkey
Some media reports stated earlier that Dostum was "seeking political asylum" in Turkey  while others said he was exiled. One Turkish media outlet said Dostum was visiting after flying there with then Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Return to Afghanistan
Late at night on 16 August 2009, Dostum made a requested return from exile to Kabul to support President Hamid Karzai in his bid for re-election. The next day, on the last day of campaigning, he flew by helicopter to his northern stronghold of Sheberghan, where he was greeted by thousands of his supporters in the local stadium. He subsequently made overtures to the United States, promising he could "destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda" if supported by the U.S., saying that "the U.S. needs strong friends like Dostum."
While Dostum was ruling northern Afghanistan before the Taliban took over in 1998, women were able to go about unveiled, girls were allowed to go to school and study at the University of Balkh in Mazar-i Sharif, cinemas showed Indian films and music played on television, activities which were all banned by the Taliban.
He viewed the ISAF forces attempt to crush the Taliban as ineffective and has gone on record saying that he could mop up the Taliban "in six months" if allowed to raise a 10,000 strong army of Afghan veterans. Senior Afghan government officials do not trust Dostum as they are concerned that he might be secretly rearming his forces.
Some human rights groups have accused his troops of human rights violations of the Taliban prisoners, charges which he denied. However, in July 2009, The NY Times reported that according to anonymous witnesses they interviewed, "over a three-day period, Taliban prisoners were stuffed into closed metal shipping containers and given no food or water; many suffocated while being trucked to the prison. Other prisoners were killed when guards shot into the containers. The bodies were said to have been buried in a mass grave in Dasht-i-Leili, a stretch of desert just outside Sheberghan. These accusations were never independently confirmed or investigated but the accusations continue.
A 2002 declassified U.S. State Department intelligence report states that another source, whose identity is redacted, concluded that about 1,500 Taliban prisoners died. Estimates from other witnesses or human rights groups range from several hundred to several thousand. The report also says that several Afghan witnesses were later tortured or killed." Dostum claimed only 200 were killed. There was satellite evidence that mass graves had been dug up and moved as well as eyewitness statements by survivors. Ultimately no formal investigation was conducted and an official website of General Dostum  lays out a timeline of events attempting to refute these numbers. The foundation of the controversy lay in confusion in estimating the number of Taliban that possibly joined the Northern Alliance or simply returned to their villages after the Kunduz surrender.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Abdul Rashid Dostum.|
- General Abdul Rashid Dostum's Official Website
- Abdul Rashid Dostum on Twitter
- Article on Abdul Rashid Dostum on Islamic Republic Of Afghanistan (.com)
- BBC online profile
- Biography about Dostum
- CNN Presents: House of War
- Afghanistan Mass Grave: The Dasht-e Leili War Crimes Investigation
- As possible Afghan war-crimes evidence removed, U.S. silent
- Obama Calls for Probe into 2001 Massacre of Suspected Taliban POWs by US-Backed Afghan Warlord - video by Democracy Now!
- Eyewitness account from National Geographic war reporter Robert Young Pelton