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Obama’s Afghan Strategy Hinges On A Crazy Man With An Army, Threatening Civil War

REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum’s threat to wage war against his own government Monday threatens the entire U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

“I don’t need a coup d’état or anything. But if the day comes, I will gather my people, I will unburden my heart to them. And after that,” Dostum told reporters at his personal palace in the north Monday. Dostum controls hundreds of ethnically Uzbek fighters in the northern part of the country and has a checkered history in Afghanistan.

Dostum’s ascension to the vice presidency came amid a 2014 U.S.-brokered political deal that sought to create a National Unity Government allied against the Taliban. Dostum has since launched independent military operations against the Taliban in his ethnic homeland, and feuded with the government for not providing his militias with funding and weapons support.

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan hinges on the integrity of the Afghan government, which it militarily supports against the Taliban. Dostum’s tiff with the Afghan government seems to center on his misgivings with the military campaign against the terrorist group. At the press conference he charged that “leadership and management is nonexistent,” in the Afghan fight against the Taliban.

If Dostum splits from the government, and waged an independent war on the Taliban in the north, it could trigger a total breakdown of the Kabul-based government. This would mirror Dostum’s abandonment of the Afghan government in the early 1990s, which triggered an all-out civil war. The Taliban came to power amid the chaos, and controlled the country until the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The Afghan forces are now suffering historic casualties since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014 — 4,500 men were lost between March and August, with 900 of those casualties sustained in the month of July alone. Current estimates put Afghan losses at nearly 18 men per day.

Dostum is personally tied to a major massacre in 2001, when his militias allegedly killed hundreds of Taliban prisoners of war. President Barack Obama indicated to CNN in 2009 he would launch further investigation into the matter, but no formal findings were released. Tensions over Dostum’s role in the massacre resurfaced in April, when U.S. officials reportedly refused to allow him into the country.

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