Russian MoD Official Visits Tajikistan As ISIS Fears Grow
A private militia to combat ISIS and the Taliban has been formed in northern Afghanistan, as Afghan and Central Asian officials continue to debate to what extent there is an ISIS presence in the region.
It's not clear how serious the new anti-ISIS militia is: "several dozen" members announced its presence at the provincial council office in Mazar-e-Sharif this week, according to a report by Khaama Press. But they claim to have 5,000 people ready to fight ISIS and the Taliban, and if nothing else they have a keen instinct for PR: their uniforms are the tricolor of Afghanistan's flag -- red, green, and black -- and their name is "Marg," or "Death."
Also this week, a senior Russian defense ministry official visited Tajikistan where he invoked the growing terror threat. The official, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov, called Tajikistan "our outpost in the fight against terror." The officials discussed Russian aid to Tajikistan but no details were announced; Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in a piece headlined "ISIS Tests Strength of Central Asia's Borders") that the purpose of the visit was to assuage concerns in Dushanbe about slow deliveries of the military aid Russia has promised Tajikistan.
Antonov promised "to do everything possible so that Tajikistan's armed forces are strong, powerful, mobile, capable and equipped with modern weaponry and equipment." And if Tajikistan is unhappy about the slow delivery of aid Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo didn't show it, giving a fairly Kremlin-friendly take on the security threats in the world: "Against the backdrop of what is going on in the world -- Ukraine, the Arab countries, sanctions, other problems, I think we need to prepare to react," Mirzo said.
The question of ISIS's presence in Afghanistan has become the subject of much debate in Afghanistan and in its neighbors to the north; Russian and Central Asian officials have begun to issue alarming reports about the group's gathering on the borders of Central Asia with the intention of attacking.
Afghan officials have tended to downplay those claims, but last week one Afghan senator told RFE/RL's Turkmen service that Islamists with ISIS's trademark black flags have appeared in immediate proximity of the border with Turkmenistan, and that among their ranks are Central Asians, and that several Taliban groups in the region have joined ISIS. "These ISIS fighters are very well armed and they are calling on local residents to raise the black flag," said the senator, Gulmukhammed Rasul.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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