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Harris Whitbeck: Afghan unity behind defense appointment

CNN's Harris Whitbeck
CNN's Harris Whitbeck  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- In a move to bring support to the new interim government, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Monday appointed Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum as deputy defense minister.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck filed the following report from the Afghan capital, Kabul:

WHITBECK: The chairman of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, took a step Monday that is meant to cement the unity of his new government. He appointed a new deputy minister of defense. That is Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is one of the most powerful warlords in the country.

Dostum virtually controls the entire northern part of Afghanistan. He was driven out of there in 1997 by the Taliban, but he then came back and retook Mazar-e Sharif, the strategic town in the north of Afghanistan, and helped pave the way for the defeat of the Taliban and the entry of the Northern Alliance into all the major cities here.

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Dostum has been a controversial figure during the Bonn, Germany, talks that led to the formation of this interim government. He had expressed his discord with the fact that he had not been given a major role to play.

But Monday, Karzai said Dostum would be the deputy defense minister, in effect joining the two most powerful warlords in Afghanistan at the Ministry of Defense.

The minister of defense, Gen. Mohammad Fahim, said he was very glad to have Dostum at his side. This probably means that Afghanistan is now on its way to forming one unified army. The government leaders say that is something the country needs, and they have asked the United Nations to help them.

CNN: How does Dostum's appointment affect the idea of an international peace-keeping force? Has there been any shift in that position?

WHITBECK: There hasn't been any shift publicly at this point, but what I can tell you is that Dostum's appointment means that Karzai is definitely trying to reach out his hand to all those who might've expressed discord with the confirmation of this government.

In terms of the length of stay of the international security force in Afghanistan, Karzai has been very clear to say they will stay as long as they are needed.

He has certainly emerged in the last couple of days -- as far as his public persona goes -- as being a very strong leader. And many here do feel confident that he will be able to maintain leadership in this country that has been so divided for so many years.


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