As the government started to arm the staff of the oil and gas refineries (creating “groups for the defense of the revolution”) Dostum was, on the basis of his military training, encouraged to enlist. His group, in response to increasing conflict, was deployed in the rural areas around Sheberghan, under the auspices of the Ministry of National Security.
By the mid 1980s his platoon had grown in stature, reaching a company level by at least 1987 and a regimental level, Regiment 734, by 1988. While the unit recruited throughout Jowzjan and had a relatively broad base, many of its early troops and commanders came from Dostum's home village, Khoja Dukoh, and these represented the core of the unit at that juncture and again when it was reconstituted after 2001. He left the army after the purge of Parchamis, but returned after the Soviet occupation began.
With Amin in power the Soviet Union became alarmed when KGB reports of Amin seeking to cut ties to the Soviet Union and ally with Communist China and Pakistan surfaced. On December 27 1979, the Soviet Union decided to invade and seize control of the country. As planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed in the fighting and the Soviet military command at Termez, Uzbek SSR, announced on Radio Kabul that Afghanistan had been "liberated" from Amin's rule.
Mujahideen attacks were still a problem and by this time Dostum was commanding a militia battalion to fight them. This became a regiment and ultimately was incorporated into the defense forces as the 53rd Infantry Division, but reporting directly to then-President Mohammad Najibullah. He then joined the Ministry of State Security and became commander of unit 374 in Jowzjan. He defended the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the United States-backed mujahideen in the 1980s. Although he was only a regional commander, he had largely raised the militia he fought with on his own.
The Jowzjani militia, as it became known, was one of the few militia forces to be used outside of its region. They were deployed in Qandahar in 1988 when Soviet forces withdrew. He also supported the Gorbachev-era Communist reforms in Afghanistan.
On April 18, 1992, he revolted against the government of President Najibullah, allying with Ahmad Shah Massoud. Together, they captured Kabul, the Afghan capital. He commanded the principal militia force in Kabul that ousted Najibullah, creating episodes of kidnapping, looting and fighting. He fought in coalition with Ahmad Shah Masoud of the Northern Alliance against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in 1992.
In 1996, following the rise of the Taliban and their capture of Herat and Kabul, Dostum realigned himself with Rabbani against the Taliban. The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, forcing Dostum to retreat to Mazar-i-Sharif. Dostum's forces also aided Ahmed Shah Massoud's forces as they fled north from the Taliban.
Much like other northern alliance leaders, Dostum also faced infighting within his group. Power struggles between Dostum and Malik came to a head when Malik decided to assist the Taliban in Mazari-Sharif to topple Dostum. General Abdul Malik revolted against him in May 1997 and joined hands with the Taliban. Dostum fled the country and escaped to Turkey, thus leaving the power in Malik’s hands. By this time, the Taliban had gathered thousands of troops in Mazar, at Malik's insistence for help. However, now that Dostum had left, Malik switched sides again and obtained the assistance of the Hezbe Wahdat. Thus Malik handed over thousands of Taliban to the Hezbe Wahdat. Over six to eight thousand Talibs lost their lives due to Malik’s betrayal.
A few years later, the Taliban finally managed to overrun Malik’s group. Malik first escaped to Iran for sanctuary and later chose to make Washington DC his permanent residence. Later Malik once again left Washington and is currently believed to be living in Iran. Abdul Rashid Dostum returned from his exile in Turkey in April 2001. Massoud had funded Dostum to come and open a Western front in a campaign against the Taliban. Along with General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan, Dostum was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance.
Mike Spann was to be the first combat casualty of the war and over 120 afghans were killed along with all but 86 of the foreign fighters in the fortress of Qala-i-Jangi. This battle is documented in the BBC/CNN production "House of War".
In the aftermath of the Taliban's removal from northern Afghanistan, forces loyal to Dostum frequently clashed with forces loyal to Tajik General Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor. Atta kidnapped and killed a number of Dostum's men and constantly agitated to gain control of Mazar i Sharif. Through the political mediations of the Karzai regime, the U.S.-led international military coalition, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, as well as the UN-run Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program, the Dostum-Atta feud has largely ended. The two are now generally politically allied as part of a broader ideological effort to protect the interests of Afghanistan's war veterans and to preserve their own power. On March 1, 2005 President Hamid Karzai appointed him Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, although it is unclear whether this position has any real power.
On February 2 2008, about 50 of Dostum's fighters reportedly kidnapped Akbar Bai, a former ally of Dostum who had become his rival. In this attack, which occurred at Bai's home, Bai, his son, and a bodyguard were said to have been beaten, and another bodyguard was said to have been shot. Early on February 3, Dostum's house was surrounded by police. Bai and the three others were freed and hospitalized. According to the authorities, the stand-off at Dostum's home between his fighters and the police ended with Dostum's agreement to cooperate with the authorities in an investigation of the incident. Radio Free Europe reported on February 6 2008 that Afghan Attorney-General Abdul Jabar Sabit said charges against Dostum were pending. Sabit said that the political and security situation would make it difficult to prosecute Dostum. The charges, according to Sabit, included kidnapping, breaking and entering, and assault.
According to a spokesman for the United National Front of Afghanistan, Sayed Hussain Sancharaki claims that General Dostum has a high profile among his people and is one of the famous political and military figures of Afghanistan. He is Karzai's chief of staff for the armed forces and he is a senior member of the United Front of Afghanistan. It is natural that any kind of action against him will have repercussions. The consequences will be very dangerous -- catastrophic -- for the stability of Afghanistan."
Human Rights Watch spokesmen Sam Zia-Zarifi, called the charges a sign of Afghanistan's "growing balkanization". He asserted that the size of warlords private armies was increasing, fueled by illicit profits from Afghanistan's Opium trade.
On February 19, it was announced that Sabit had suspended Dostum from his position as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief after he failed to appear when summoned for the investigation. According to Dostum, this was "not in line with the law", and he said that he would request Karzai's intervention. Three allies of Dostum—Latif Pedram and two members of parliament—were also summoned for the investigation.
He views the NATO attempt to crush the Taliban as ineffective and has gone on record saying that he could mop up the Taliban, "in six months." If allowed to raise an 10,000 strong army of Afghan vets. Senior Afghan government officials do not trust Dostum as they show great concern that Dostum is covertly rearming his forces.