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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dostum Takes Back Control of Mazar

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose forces took control of Mazar-i-Sharif, an important crossroads in northern Afghanistan, on Friday night, is the very model of a modern Uzbek warlord.

He is a 46-year-old farmer's son who left school at 15, in 1971, to work for a Soviet-built, state-run natural gas pipeline in northern Afghanistan. He rose to run the field workers' union. He rose again, at 23, to lead a militia of Uzbeks, the prominent ethnic minority in the area, that sided with the Soviets when they invaded with 110,000 troops at the end of 1979.

And he rose again to command a feared armored division. The Soviet forces and their Afghan underlings killed perhaps a million villagers nationwide and drove more than 6 million into exile in the 1980s.

All the while, the CIA and Pakistan collaborated on a $3 billion arms package to support rebels who fought the Soviets.

Dostum collaborated with the Soviets after they left Afghanistan in 1989, until he switched sides in 1992 and helped overthrow Moscow's chosen ruler in Kabul.

The Afghan rebels then tried to run the nation, but after years of civil war, the Taliban took power in 1996, promising order out of chaos. Then, the Taliban had Dostum on their side.

Dostum has made and broken other alliances. He fought against, then joined the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massood. On Sept. 9, Massood was murdered, apparently in a conspiracy led by Osama bin Laden.

By 1997, Dostum had built a private fief in Mazar-i-Sharif, with a population of roughly 2 million. He controlled as many as 50,000 Uzbek fighters, including three infantry divisions and an armored brigade, in Mazar-i-Sharif and six northern provinces, according to a biography compiled by Pakistan's military intelligence service, which by then had shifted its support to the Taliban.

He ruled like an emir, the biography says. He set up his own airline, Balkh Air, his own currency and his own culture, far from the religious strictures of the Taliban rulers in Kandahar, in the south.

"The shops in his domain are full of imported goods from Dubai," Kamal Matinuddin, a retired Pakistani general, former ambassador and a governor of the Institute of Strategic Studies, wrote in 1998. "Local cinemas show Indian films, and Russian vodka and German beer are available."

"He is not as popular as is made out by his followers," Matinuddin wrote. "Although every shop carries his photograph and every official building displays his portrait, behind the scenes he is accused of corruption, nepotism and leading a lifestyle far beyond what even the northern provinces could afford."

The general added that "the Taliban have managed to infiltrate their ideas into his territory, which has weakened his power base."

That was prophetic: Dostum lost Mazar-i-Sharif to the Taliban on Aug. 8, 1999.

Now he is trying to rise again.