Dustum eyes Afghan defence post

Afghanistan's powerful northern commander General Abd al-Rashid Dustum has revealed he is seeking a senior military position in President Hamid Karzai's government.

    Dustum (L) was known for his ferocity during Soviet occupation

    His comments came as fresh fighting between US-led forces and suspected Taliban fighters left one rebel dead and three US soldiers wounded on Sunday.

    "The post is not important but I would like to work with the government," Dustum told reporters on Sunday in Shirbirghan city in the northern province of Jawzjan.

    "I will ask Karzai to appoint me as defence minister, army chief-of-staff or give me a military position with 20,000 soldiers," Dustum said. 

    On Saturday, Karzai said he was open to giving Dustum a senior position.

    "If he asks for a higher position in the Ministry of Defence, it is a legitimate request and we are thinking about it," he said.

    Since October, Kabul officials had said they were considering offering Dostam and his rival, Tajik commander Atta Muhammad, posts in the central government in an attempt to pull them out of the north and curb their rivalry which frequently erupts into deadly clashes between their respective militias.
    An Uzbek general, Dustum controls the Junbish-i-Melli-i-Islami party (National Islamic Movement) and leads a majority Uzbek militia known for its ferocity during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

    Muhammad controls the largely Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami force.
    Control of north

    Following the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Dustum was appointed deputy defence minister. In mid-2002, he left the role and became a special adviser to Karzai on
    northern Afghanistan.

    Karzai says he may award the
    Uzbek strongman a senior post 

    Junbish has long been fighting to control northern Afghanistan with Jamiat-i-Islami, principally composed of former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance fighters who now dominate Karzai's government.

    Efforts to disarm and demobilise Junbish and Jamiat fighters have been under way since November under a pilot disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation programme.

    The disarmament of militias loyal to regional commanders is a critical issue for Karzai's government, as it seeks to extend its control into the provinces.
    Dustum was in Sheberghan on Sunday to open a new non-government television station, Aina TV, which will broadcast to the main northern provinces of Jawzjan, Balkh, Faryab and Sari Pul.

    US base attacked

    Meanwhile, a rebel was killed and three US soldiers injured in a weekend attack on an American base in central Afghanistan by 15 fighters using heavy machine guns and grenades.

    The three US troops were hit by shrapnel during fighting on Sunday at the base of the US-led force in Deh Rawood in troubled central Uruzgan province, military spokesman Lieutenent Colonel Bryan Hilferty said in Kabul.

    "We returned fire, killing one of the attackers," Hilferty said. The 15 rebel fighters used rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles to attack the troops, he said.

    The direct attack on the US-led forces base from heavy machine gun fire was uncommon as insurgents have mostly used rockets in their attacks against troops, Hilferty added.

    He would not speculate on the background of the attackers. Similar attacks have been blamed on remnants of the ousted
    Taliban regime, their allies from the al-Qaida network and loyalists of renegade warlord Gulb al-Din Hekmatyar.

    The 12,000-strong US-led force is now in its third year of hunting rebel holdouts, mainly along the 2400km border with Pakistan.



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