With the Taliban threatening to overrun large parts of Afghanistan, First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is seeking help from an old ally — Russia.
A graduate of the Soviet Military Academy and a general in the Soviet-backed Afghan army, Dostum is hoping his old links to Moscow will help him secure crucial military support for Afghanistan’s besieged security forces.
A trip to Russia took him to Moscow and Chechnya, where he met with Ramzan Kadyrov on the Kremlin-backed regional strongman’s birthday on October 5.
Dostum, who led an ethnic Uzbek militia during the civil war of the 1990s, landed in Moscow last week. He has held talks with top Russian security officials, pleading for heavy weapons and helicopter gunships for the 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces.
“The Russian side is committed to support and help Afghanistan in terms of helping its air and military forces,” Dostum’s spokesman, Sultan Faizy, told RFE/RL by telephone. “We’re lacking air support, weapons, ammunition. We need a lot of backing and support to fight against terrorism.”
But Faizy said that would not mean direct military intervention by Russia, which is still mindful of the 1979-89 war that killed some 15,000 Soviet soldiers and has repeatedly said it would not send troops to Afghanistan.
Faizy said that Moscow had promised to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and “see what they can help with.”
Russia has also pledged to pressure the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, three of which border Afghanistan, to boost support for the country, Faizy said.
Looking For Help
Faizy said Russian officials told Dostum they were concerned about Islamic State (IS) militants gaining ground in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s brief capture last week of the northern city of Kunduz, the first time the militants have overrun a major urban center since being ousted from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Dostum has urged the Central Asian countries — where he has visited regularly — to provide weapons and other military support.
Last year, Dostum made unofficial visits to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in order to negotiate potential deals for such assistance. But he came back empty-handed.
Dostum is now hoping his former connections with Moscow will translate into direct support.