Eyeing Taliban, Tajikistan Sets Up New Military Base On Afghan Border
Tajikistan's armed forces are setting up a new base near the Afghanistan border in response to the apparent massing of fighters on the Afghan side of the border.
The base, to be called "Khomiyon," will be in the Kulyab region. "Tanks, armored vehicles and other weaponry" will be deployed to the base, which "units of all security structures of the country will be able to use for conducting maneuvers," reported RFE/RL, citing a source in Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense. While there is no "immediate threat" from the Taliban fighters apparently massing near the Tajikistan border, Dushanbe still chose to take "preventative measures," the official said.
(Technically, the facility is not a "base" but a "polygon," a Russian word suggesting something smaller than a base, though the report also noted that the polygon would operate "under the regime of a military base.")
An unnamed source in Tajikistan's State Committee on National Security (GKNB) told the Russian news agency TASS that "groups not controlled by Kabul" have massed on the Afghanistan side of the border.
"We are closely tracking the situation close to the border of Afghanistan, especially in the Badakhshan and Pyanj areas, where intelligence has noted a gathering of armed individuals, coming from various extremist and terrorist communities like the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," the source said.
"Tajik special services are undertaking an array of preventative measures, using the reserves of the main directorate of the border service of Tajikistan, to strengthen the most vulnerable parts" of the border, the official added. "We've established close cooperation with colleagues from the CSTO, including Russians, for the exchange of operational information, we're carefully gathering information about the goals of the concentration of fighters on the border with Tajikistan, their plans."
In a curious coincidence, on the same day an unnamed official from Uzbekistan's National Security Service also gave an interview with a Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, using similar language. "Operational information indicates a noticeable increased concentration of armed formations not controlled by the government of Afghanistan," the source said.
In the case of Uzbekistan no additional forces or facilities are being used to address the situation, but technical improvements have allowed border posts to better communicate with one another, allowing the same number of guards to function better.
As both reports noted, all of this comes just after a senior Kremlin official warned that groups of armed fighters were massing in Afghanistan near the borders with Central Asia. (Though that official said the fighters were from ISIS, which these new reports don't claim.) All of these coincidences, and the lack of concrete information, are certainly grounds for suspicion given Russia's apparent interest in ginning up an Islamist threat in the region in order to increase its security presence in Central Asia.
However, there also has been an undeniable increase in the level of activity near the Afghanistan-Central Asia border. In late December four Tajikistan border guards were kidnapped by Taliban fighters while the guards were gathering firewood in Afghanistan. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the Taliban made demands of an exchange of the guards for Taliban prisoners currently being held in Tajikistani prisons. Tajikistan newspaper Asia Plus reported that "the Afghan law enforcement authorities assure that the release of Tajik border guards is just a matter of time. 'The border guards’ whereabouts has been established and there is reliable information that they are safe and sound,'" an unnamed security services source told the newspaper.
And on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border, where there have reportedly been clashes between Taliban and Turkmenistan armed forces, the Afghanistanan armed forces are preparing a "large-scale operation to clean the area of Taliban fighters," reported the website Afghanistan.ru. "A concentration of fighters in the regions bordering Turkmenistan has become grounds for concern in Ashgabat," local police official General Fakir Mokhammed Dzhauzdzhani said.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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