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Afghan Vice President Dostum Vows To 'Clear' Northern Province Of Militants

Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum (file photo)

First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum has vowed that Afghanistan's volatile northern Faryab Province will soon be fully "cleared" of Taliban and other militants, as he leads an ongoing security operation in the area.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan from Faryab's Ghurmach district on August 19, Dostum suggested that "morale is extremely low" among militants as government troops continue to attack their positions.

Dostum, a former warlord, reportedly cut short medical treatment in Turkey to return to Afghanistan in July, after the Taliban's seizure of dozens of villages in Faryab sparked fears that the northern province bordering Turkmenistan would slip from government control.

Dostum claims that many areas have already been retaken from militants since the military operation began earlier this month.

Dostum told RFE/RL that troops have been deployed in "secret passageways," which militants use to retreat from northern areas to the southern Helmand Province -- a Taliban stronghold.

Dostum claimed that a militant commander from Uzbekistan was among the insurgents killed in the operation, while the Taliban's "border affairs minister" sustained injuries.

Dostum recently reiterated previous claims that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency has been supporting the Taliban in the conflict.

He also claimed that Afghan troops had killed "a Pakistani general," and he pledged to show that general's grave to reporters "once the operation is over."

"This war is not merely a war in [the Afghan] districts of Ghurmach, Bala Murghab, Qaysar, or Almar; this is war with Pakistan's ISI," Dostum said.

Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek with a kaleidoscopic history of alliances, said that "negotiations are under way with Pashtun tribal leaders" in the northern regions to win their support in the fight against the predominantly Pashtun Taliban fighters.

He sought to dismiss "rumors that Dostum has come to fight against Pashtuns in the area."

"I've come here hoping for Pashtun tribes' support," he said.

Afghan politicians and media frequently accuse neighboring Pakistan of supporting the Taliban to stir the conflict in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently criticized Pakistan for failing to rein in the Taliban and sent a delegation to Islamabad to demand action against the militants, who Kabul says launch attacks on Afghanistan from a base in Pakistan.

Islamabad rejects the claims.

Militants have expanded attacks in relatively peaceful northern provinces since U.S.-led combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Dostum, who was based in the northern Balkh Province during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, still retains considerable influence in Balkh and surrounding provinces.

INFOGRAPHIC: Afghanistan's New Northern Flash Points