Forces of a renegade adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai have overrun the capital of a northern province, a defense ministry official said on Thursday.
Forces of ethnic Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum invaded Faryab province on Wednesday, prompting the central government to dispatch national army troops there on Thursday in an attempt to restore order.
“Both the governor and the commander have fled. Dostum’s forces have overrun Maimana,” said a defense ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said an emergency National Security Council meeting chaired by Karzai had heard the city fell “to irresponsible armed individuals from neighboring provinces and areas around Maimana.”
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said U.N. staff in Maimana had reported fighting in the city on Thursday, but he had no further details.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency said a batch of national army troops had reached Mainama airport but had not ventured into the city.
A soldier from the force of General Mohammad Hashim Habibi, the commander of the provincial militia who fled with governor Anayatullah Anayat, said Habibi was currently in Belcheragh, a town about 40 km (25 miles) east of Maimana.
The government has defended Anayat as its legitimate representative in Faryab, and said that if an investigation determined Dostum had acted against him, it would be deemed “an unlawful act.”
Ludin said earlier the deployment of the national army would be “just one measure” to ensure the situation did not worsen.
“General Dostum is an adviser to the President. However, that does not give him the right to deploy forces or get involved in any military operational issues,” he said.
“We would like to ensure security for the people and uphold the authority of the central government,” he said. “The people need to know they will not be left to the mercy of warlords.”
BAD NEWS FOR KARZAI
Dostum’s forces have been involved in several rounds of fighting for territory since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001. A federalist, he unsuccessfully opposed Karzai’s bid for a strong presidency in a constitutional assembly in January.
Anayat charged that Dostum, whose private army is among those targeted for demobilization by Karzai, launched the assault after Kabul rejected his demand to be appointed defense minister or army chief of staff.
Fresh factional fighting is bad news for Karzai, who needs to ensure security for elections in September with the help of NATO-led peacekeepers and the U.S.-led force whose main task is pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
Anayat appealed for the troops on Wednesday after fighting came within 20 km (12 miles) of Maimana and complained that the central government had been slow to respond.
He said his troops were outnumbered and many had been disarmed by Dostum’s troops. He did not have any casualty figures, but said there were “bound to have been deaths.”
It was the second time in less than a month that the government sent in troops from the still infant national army to keep order in troubled provinces and deal with unrest involving warlord militias targeted for disarmament.
There were fierce clashes in the western city of Herat last month after forces of a commander appointed by Karzai killed the son of the provincial governor, who was also a cabinet minister.
Karzai rushed 1,500 troops of the national army — which has a combat strength of only about 8,000 — to Herat, prompting expressions of concern from the U.S. military that this took up resources that should be pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.