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Tensions between the Afghan government and a powerful warlord are rising.



Tensions between the Afghan government and a powerful warlord are rising.
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Tensions between the Afghan government and a powerful warlord are rising.

Tensions between the Afghan government and a powerful warlord are rising.


Tensions between Afghanistan’s government and a powerful local warlord are increasing, with deadly clashes erupting between his forces and government troops in a rural province. As U.S. troops make their way to the exits, the fear is that the fighting will usher in yet more confusion.

After the defense minister accused his fighters of shooting down a military helicopter last week, the government launched an attack in central Maidan Wardak province, vowing to punish the warlord, Abdul Ghani Alipoor.

It’s the latest in a long line of squabbles with Alipoor that are becoming increasingly bloody. In January, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the province’s Behsud district, killing at least 11 people, including several Alipoor supporters.

Alipoor enjoys widespread support among ethnic Hazaras, a predominantly Shiite group that makes up the majority of the population in Maidan Wardak despite being a minority in Afghanistan. Alipoor is one of the many warlords who wield local influence in Afghanistan, backed by heavily armed militias. Some of them are allied with the government, but others, such as Alipoor, are often at odds with Kabul and defy its influence.

As Afghanistan enters a new phase after decades of fighting, these warlords may be a wild card. The US has committed to withdrawing the last of its forces, but it is uncertain if it will reach a May 1 deadline. It is attempting to persuade the government and the Taliban to reach a peace agreement so that the country does not devolve into greater violence or an outright Taliban takeover following the US withdrawal.

Even with the Taliban’s offensives continuing, this is proving difficult. Some fear that the warlords will strike out if their numerous, frequently competing interests are harmed as a result of the peace process.

Warlords’ supporters see them as their only security and support in the face of a notoriously corrupt government and violent rebels, even though Kabul regards them as agents of chaos.

Many Hazaras regard Alipoor as a hero for defending them against the Taliban and keeping local institutions going in the face of Sunni militant attacks and government discrimination.

“The government is inept, so people depend on Alipoor and help him,” said Mohammed Jan, whose brother was one of the protesters killed in Behsud on Jan. 29. “Alipoor is dedicated to his people. Everyone would help our government if it served the people, and there would be no need for an Alipoor.”

The protest on Jan. 29 was triggered by Kabul’s appointment of new local officials, which the district saw as a threat to Alipoor.

A local elder, Mohammad Baqir Joyenda, said he and a number of other elders from the district met with the provincial police chief to try to get the appointments reversed. Meanwhile, outside, demonstrators had gathered. As the elders exited the building after the conference, special forces opened fire on the demonstrators, Joyenda said.

He said, “We could see shooting and hear people screaming.” He claimed to have footage of a wounded man yelling for help before being shot by security forces again, as well as another wounded man being run over by a military vehicle. Security officers, he said, forced him to remove the videos from his phone.

Joyenda heard of his son’s death at 10:30 p.m. that night. Joyenda said the 18-year-old, who had just graduated from high school, was shot from behind.

And months later, the deaths have left families in a state of shock. Musouma Rahimi, her eyes welling up with tears, said her brother, Baqer, a farmer with eight children, was among the dead. After being shot, one witness said he was run over by a security car.

Rahimi, who has five children and works as a bank guard in Kabul, said, “We don’t have enough money for our own family, we can’t afford my brother’s family.” “I have no idea what will happen to them.”

The shooting exacerbated long-standing animosities between Alipoor and his supporters, as well as Kabul. Alipoor’s fighters opened fire from among the demonstrators, causing security forces to fire back, according to the Interior Ministry. However, the government investigation’s findings have not been made public, apart from the fact that all of the victims were civilians.

Alipoor — known among his followers as Commander Shamsheer, which means “Commander Sword” in Dari — faces trial on a variety of charges, including past clashes with security forces, according to authorities. Attempts to apprehend him in 2018 resulted in violence that killed seven civilians and four police officers, as well as widespread Hazara protests in Kabul.

After a military helicopter crashed in Behsud on Wednesday, killing all nine people on board, the two sides seem to be heading for a new conflict.

Gen. Yasin Zia, the newly named acting Defense Minister, accused Alipoor’s fighters of shooting down the helicopter with a missile at a press conference on Saturday. He said the helicopter was on its way to transport troops injured in previous clashes with the warlord.

“Revenge will be taken because they were attacked while defending the country,” President Ashraf Ghani said after speaking with the families of the dead military personnel over the phone.

Security forces fought Alipoor’s fighters in Behsud later Saturday, killing at least 12 and injuring six, according to the ministry. There was no news about whether or not there were any government casualties. The troops also discovered an arms cache and dismantled a number of checkpoints set up by Alipoor’s militia, according to the study.

Some government officials, on the other hand, are attempting to avoid a further escalation. Mohammad Mohaqiq, one of Ghani’s security advisors, urged the government to avoid military action and “resolve the problem peacefully.”

In a social media post, Mohammed Karim Khalili, a former vice president and Alipoor ally, cautioned that operations would provoke civilians. “It would only intensify issues and exacerbate social and political crises.”

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