KABUL — The Afghan government has tapped a notorious former warlord to lead a mission to retake a remote northwestern district captured by the Taliban during the weekend, officials said Tuesday.
First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum has no formal position in the military, but he has a ‘‘bodyguard’’ of 640 men. He and other former warlords are assuming a larger role in the battle against the Taliban as troops have struggled to take on the insurgents without the aid of US and NATO combat troops.
Dostum’s spokesman, Sultan Faizy, said he would assess the situation in Ghormach district, in the Faryab province, and submit recommendations to President Ashraf Ghani and the National Security Council. He will then implement their decision, only leading men into battle with their permission, the spokesman said.
Dostum, a prominent mujahedeen commander who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and took part in the civil war that erupted after their withdrawal, is expected to lead a combined force of army, police, and his own militiamen. Government reinforcements are being dispatched to Faryab.
If he gets the green light from Ghani and the NSC, it will be Dostum’s second time this year leading men into Faryab to take on the Taliban. In August, he donned a full military uniform and joined troops in pushing the Taliban out of districts around the provincial capital, Maymana.
Dostum’s activities have caused some alarm and raised questions about the government outsourcing security to former warlords who are able to mobilize small private armies.
Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai has denied the government is falling back on private militias. In an interview Monday, he said Dostum and others are able to mobilize armed men with whom they had been associated but they did not have private armies.
The Taliban, who have steadily widened their footprint in the country over the past year, captured Ghormach on Sunday. The district police chief and 17 of his men have not been heard from since Monday, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.