A day after Afghanistan’s First Vice President, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, narrowly survived an assassination attempt, the Taliban vowed Sunday the former warlord remains one of their prime targets.
Officials in Afghanistan have confirmed Dostum’s convoy came under a Taliban attack Saturday evening in the northern Balkh province that killed one of his security guards and wounded several others.
Regional security officials and close aides of the powerful ethnic Uzbek leader said he was traveling back Saturday evening to his native neighboring province of Jawzjan when insurgents ambushed the convoy.
Both sides suffered casualties in the ensuing hour-long intense gunfight but Dostum escaped unhurt, they added.
The Taliban swiftly took credit for plotting the assassination attempt, saying it killed four loyalists of Dostum, including a key commander.
A regional Afghan military statement claimed that five Taliban assailants were killed and many more were wounded.
Long a target
“Dostum has long been our target and we have never given any undertaking not to attack him,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA when asked whether the raid could undermine their ongoing peace talks with the United States. Mujahid also rejected as baseless propaganda official statements claiming Saturday’s ambush killed or injured any Taliban fighters.
Dostum had landed in Balkh from a foreign trip and addressed a public gathering in the provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif hours before his convoy was attacked, party and police officials said.
In his speech to the gathering, the powerful politician had asserted that if given the opportunity he would “eliminate” the Taliban from northern Afghanistan in “just six months.”
Saturday’s attack was the second assassination attempt on Dostum since July 2018 when he escaped a suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport soon after landing in the country from more than a year in self-imposed exile in Turkey over allegations of torturing and abusing a political rival in his native Afghan province.
Human rights accusations
The Uzbek strongman is notorious in Afghanistan and was one of the warlords who helped the United States oust the Taliban from power in 2001.
Human rights groups have long accused Dostum of committing war crimes, including the deaths of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in the custody of his militia forces.
A political opponent, Ahmad Ishchi, alleged in 2016 that he had been tortured and raped by Dostum and his militiamen. Dostum was the acting president of Afghanistan at the time because President Ashraf Ghani was out of the country.
Soon after the government had launched an investigation into the assault against Ishchi, the former warlord fled the country and returned 15 months later after a deal with Ghani that ended weeks of crippling protests in northern Afghan provinces by Dostum’s supporters.