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Afghan warlord’s air force chief defects to Taliban

May 24, 1997

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The northern warlord fighting Afghanistan’s religious rulers suffered another blow to his shaky power base today when his air force chief defected to the Taliban with two top pilots.

Rashid Dostum’s air force chief, Gen. Jamil, and one of the pilots flew to Maimana air base in northern Faryab province, said Gen. Yousuf Shah, the third pilot to defect.

``I quit from Dostum’s camp because he wants to dismember Afghanistan,″ Shah said, after his Russian-made L-39 jet landed in the Afghan capital.

The defectors took three fighter jets with them, leaving Dostum with fewer than than 10, he said.

``All the people in the north are revolting against him because they are happy with the Taliban,″ the pilot said at Kabul airport.

Shah said he took off in the morning from the Shebergan air base, 240 miles to the northwest, near Dostum’s stronghold in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Jamil, who like many Afghans uses only one name, and the other pilot flew in separate jets to Faryab, a province that Dostum lost this week after a disgruntled commander, Gen. Malik Pahlawan, staged a mutiny and later declared a holy war on his former leader.

Pahlawan’s forces have pledged allegiance to the Taliban Islamic militia, which controls the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan.

The Taliban have forced men to grow beards and have banned smoking as part of their strict interpretation of Islam. They also have prohibited women from working and going to school.

Meanwhile, the Taliban continued to bomb enemy positions in the north to try to gain control of a strategic pass through the Hindu Kush mountains protecting Dostum’s stronghold.

``Fighting around Shebergan is continuing. Our jet fighters are also dropping bombs near Mazar-i-Sharif and the Shebir Pass,″ said Taliban air force chief Ghulam Jalani.

Shebergan is Dostum’s hometown.

A Taliban victory over Dostum would complete a three-year campaign to control all of Afghanistan.

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