Turkmenistan Mobilizes Military Against ISIS Threat
Turkmenistan is undertaking the first large-scale mobilization of its reserve military forces since gaining independence, which government officials say is required to ward off the threat of ISIS forces gathering in neighboring Afghanistan.
That's according to a report in Central Asia Online, a Pentagon-funded news website known mostly for its sunny promotion of the activities of some of the world's most authoritarian governments. This report, even though it falls into that same pattern, is nevertheless pretty extraordinary for the fact that it gets several Turkmenistan officials to talk on the record, and some of them even disagree with one another.
"This is the first large-scale and serious ... mobilisation of reservists in the nearly 24 years of the country's independence," Defence Ministry official Agamyrat Garakhanov told Central Asia Online, calling the number of called-up reservists a "state secret".
An official in the Mary region said many of the reservists are being sent to the Afghanistan border, where "the situation is rather tense because of ... threats from units of" ISIS. "We don't talk about [ISIS] aloud," said a retired lieutenant colonel, Soltan Botirov, "but the threat exists, and we must thwart it by any means available. That's why [the authorities] have been taking all those preventive steps."
But one of the reservists called up questioned the need: "Ours is a neutral country that nobody plans to attack," said the reservist, Master Sgt. Nurberdi Agayev of Akhal Province.
Another call-up last year also was attributed to the perceived threat from Afghanistan (though then it was just the Taliban, not ISIS). And reports about this year's call-up have been appearing, but the government hadn't commented on them until now.
It remains unlikely that ISIS is in fact threatening Turkmenistan, in spite of repeated claims by Central Asian and Russian officials (and Central Asia Online) that the group is massing at the Afghanistan-Central Asia border. That claim was repeated this week by a senior Russian Defense Ministry official, who said that ISIS cells have begun appearing on Central Asia's borders.
But it's interesting that Turkmenistan, one of the most reclusive governments in the world, has decided (to a small degree, anyway) to open up about what they see as a threat.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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