Afghanistan's Uzbek leader and vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum has kicked off an offensive in the northern part of the country, just two weeks after traveling to Russia to arrange an increase in military aid.
On Wednesday, Afghanistan's security forces started an operation in the province of Jawzjan, which borders Turkmenistan, led personally by Dostum. The offensive is meant to beat back recent Taliban gains in the north, both in Jawzjan and in neighboring Faryab, which also borders Turkmenistan. Dostum led another offensive in Faryab in August, but his advances were quickly reversed.
Dostum's increasing involvement in the fighting in northern Afghanistan comes as he has also apparently sought to strengthen his ties to the former Soviet states to the north. He visited Grozny and Moscow earlier this month, meeting with officials including Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, to arrange increased Russian military aid.
After arriving in the north, Dostum appeared on Afghan television and publicly thanked his northern neighbors. "The countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, from Russia to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, all of these states are ready to stand with us against [the Islamic State], against extremism, against the bloody Taliban," he said.
There was quite a bit of talk in the Russian press last year about Dostum, with backing from Russia and Uzbekistan, setting up a "buffer state" in northern Afghanistan between Taliban-controlled areas and ex-Soviet Central Asia. And Uzbekistan is claiming some kind of role in this new operation, as well.
According to a source in Uzbekistan's "ruling circles," cited by Russian news website Regnum, the operation and Dostum's involvement was requested by Tashkent. "Uzbekistan asked the leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek community Abdul-Rashid Dostum to personally take part in the operation to liberate the Gormach district of Faryab province on the border of Turkmenistan from the Taliban militants," the source reportedly said.
Meanwhile, an Afghanistan Interior Ministry source told Russian news agency Interfax that the Taliban driven back by Dostum could be headed to the Turkmenistan border. Stay tuned.