Last month, American officials denied Afghan warlord-turned Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum a visa to the United States. In doing so, they did not simply refuse entry to the second-ranking official of a regime the United States helped put in place. They also turned down a man who was instrumental in recapturing the Northern city of Mazar-e Sharif from the Taliban in 2001; a man who worked hand in hand with US Special Forces as part of the “Global War on Terror.” Fifteen years later, the same man is barred from entering the United States.
The decision to reject Dostum’s visa application is indicative of the US government’s lack of coherence when it comes to working with non-state armed actors. Western policymakers value indigenous allies. In fact, working with militias has clear advantages, which have been well identified in recent scholarship(deniability, intelligence, access, etc.). Most importantly, using “proxy warriors” allows the United States and others to intervene militarily in far away places without the burden of having to send ground forces (for example when fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria).
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