Report: Troops From Uzbekistan And Russia Deployed To Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Border
Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan are helping Turkmenistan guard its border against militant incursions from Afghanistan, a Turkmenistani exile website reports, citing residents of border areas.
According to the report on Chronicles of Turkmenistan, "residents of Afghan border villages have recently noticed the presence on Turkmen territory border units from Uzbekistan." And it added: "About a month ago military instructors from Russia also appeared on the border. Obviously, the Turkmen authorities appealed to the Russian leadership for help guarding the border with Afghanistan, a situation where, with the arrival of warm weather, has begun to heat up."
Turkmenistan has been taking various aggressive steps to address the rise of Taliban and (some claim) ISIS units in the northern provinces of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan. Those steps reportedly include mobilizing reserve troops and carrying out incursions into Afghan territory. However, they have seemed to be trying to prosecute the fight on their own, without any other country's help.
The report of Uzbekistani and Russian troops is obviously sketchy information, and there's nothing to corroborate it. But the news comes as Turkmenistan has begun to come under some public (and undoubtedly private) Russian cajoling to let Moscow help. Just last week, a top Russian security official complained about Ashgabat's refusal to cooperate with Moscow on Afghanistan security issues.
And Russian analyst Boris Savodyan, writing for the news site Regnum, argued last week that "in Turkmenistan's policy of strict neutrality there is not the corresponding military potential and the consolidation of the nation necessary for war. So it will ask for help everyone it can, first of all Russia, which is close to Ashgabat both territorially and mentally, many decades they lived together in one country, the USSR. So Russia will help, at least to maintain a buffer between itself and ISIS, and so the war doesn't spill over onto Russian territory."
The Chronicles of Turkmenistan report echoes the claim about Turkmenistan's own troops being incapable of dealing with the threat on their own. According to one unnamed soldier who was recently deployed to the Afghan border, "all the training consists of is, two or three days of shooting at a test range just before they deploy. Before that, during their entire service, they shot only one time. 'And then they gave us three bullets each and we shot from a prone position.'"
Anyway, we're not likely to find out any time soon what's really going on on the border; Turkmenistan's government has been virtually silent about it and nearly all reporting has come from the Afghan side (where information is also quite sketchy). And even if the reports aren't true, it's an interesting little window into what locals think/hope/fear might be happening during these unprecedented events.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.