Provincial Capital in Afghanistan Is Seized by a Warlord's Forces

Posted in Broader Middle East | 10-Apr-04 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 8 - Forces loyal to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum seized control of the capital of Faryab Province in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, forcing the governor to flee and drawing a sharp rebuke from President Hamid Karzai and his ministers in Kabul.

The central government ordered in troops of the Afghan National Army, along with their American trainers, but they arrived too late to prevent the takeover of power. It was more a political coup than a military clash, with just some shooting in the air in the city, witnesses said. But militia loyal to General Dostum had seized control in four districts throughout the province, they said.


The governor and his top officials fled in the morning after a demonstration turned violent and protesters began stoning the governor's office, the interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, told a news briefing. The governor of a neighboring Sar-e-Pul Province also fled his post, he said. There were no reported casualties.

General Dostum was trying to "stamp his authority on the region," Mr. Jalali told journalists on Thursday afternoon. "What General Dostum has done is against all military rules and the Constitution of Afghanistan," he said.

It is the first time that a governor appointed by the central government has been forced from power by an armed faction, and will be a test of Mr. Karzai and his government's ability to reassert control. General Dostum is Mr. Karzai's representative in the north and has often voiced support for the central government. Yet he has been an advocate for a federated state and has been reluctant to give up military and economic control of his region.

Coming just two weeks after heavy fighting in the western province of Herat, a time when Afghan National Army troops were also deployed, the power struggle in Faryab highlights the continuing instability and the prevalence of armed militias that are plaguing much of the country.

The first deployment of 150 out of 700 Afghan National Army soldiers arrived in Faryab on Thursday afternoon and were poised to start patrols in the city by evening, said Gen. Zaher Azimi, an army spokesman. More units were on their way from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, he said.

The city was calm at nightfall, but still remained in the hands of men loyal to General Dostum. A small number of British troops were also in the city.

In a statement issued from his office in Kabul, Mr. Karzai and his security council ordered all the armed groups that had entered Faryab Province and the city of Maimana to leave immediately and return to their bases. The statement also called on the governor and other officials of Faryab to return to their work.

Mr. Jalali, who is responsible for appointing provincial governors, said members of the National Police would also be traveling to the area to investigate what had happened and to try to restore the governor to power.

He was strongly critical of General Dostum and said that men who were technically soldiers of the Ministry of Defense and under General Dostum's command were among those who seized control of Faryab. He called such action "misuse of the National Army" and "unconstitutional," and said General Dostum was acting to exert his own authority in the area for personal gain.

Neither General Dostum nor his aides could be reached for comment on Thursday, but he has reportedly denied being behind the unrest.