Uzbekistan: Security Services Lose Elite Units
The shakeup occurred just weeks before the president removed the long-serving head of the agency.
Weeks before Uzbekistan’s president shoved the head of the security services out of his post, the secretive body was stripped of its elite armed units, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service has reported.
Radio Ozodlik cited an officer with the National Security Service, or SNB, as saying the special units, which by at least one estimate are comprised of up to 10,000 highly trained troops and officers, have passed under the control of the Interior Ministry.
The reorganization marks another turn in President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s campaign to neuter the capabilities of the SNB. In early May 2017, Mirziyoyev ordered that the country’s internal troops, a force of around 20,000 men whose tasks include quelling public unrest and protecting government facilities, be passed from SNB subordination to the Interior Ministry.
The elite units wrested from SNB control included formations like Alfa, Jaguar, Burgut, Lochin, Chayon, Kobra and Ts (as in the Cyrillic letter Ц), according to the Radio Ozodlik report.
“The process of transferring the elite units began 20 days before the president’s decision to restructure the SNB,” an unnamed source in the service told the broadcaster, alluding to Mirziyoyev’s recent reshuffle.
The source notes that the units in question were initially formed under the auspices of Zokir Almatov, who was serving as Interior Ministry at the time of the bloody crushing of unrest in Andijan in 2005. Following those disturbances, the late President Islam Karimov lost faith in the Interior Ministry and moved the units across to the SNB, the security services official told Radio Ozodlik.
Almatov appears to have been brought in from the cold since Mirziyoyev came to power. Last year, he was appointed to head up a corruption-fighting body and was featured in a state television documentary that was in effect aimed at rehabilitating his reputation.
In addition to stripping the SNB of its most capable means for force projection, Mirziyoyev last month declared his intent to set out the body’s clear responsibilities in law. The security services were vastly expanded from the remnants left behind by Soviet Uzbekistan's KGB, but their charter and scope for action has never clearly been established.
Following the ouster of veteran SNB chairman Rustam Inoyatov, the president appointed outgoing General Prosecutor Ikhtiyor Abdullayev to head up the agency. It is likely that Abdullayev’s main priority will lie in helping draft a law regulating the SNB and then ensuring its implementation.
Another significant force to be taken out of the SNB’s hands is the National Guard. This body was formed in 1992 and counted around 1,000 troops. It was the run by the security services and operated in effect as Karimov’s personal guard. It was National Guard troops who would be seen standing along the road when Karimov was being driven from his resident to the Oqsaroy presidential administration building.
In a shakeup of the armed forces announced by Mirziyoyev in early January, the National Guard was moved across to the Defense Ministry. Quite how this will impact its responsibilities is not yet wholly clear. The National Guard has since August been headed by Andijan operation veteran and trusted senior military officer Bahodir Tashmatov.
While part of the strategy seems to be distributing security posts to technocrats and dependable old guard hardliners, Mirziyoyev is also resorting to tried and tested methods of ensuring those around him are loyal.
A report by Moscow-based newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta in January noted that Mirziyoyev appears to be no stranger to the regional custom of infiltrating loyal family members into senior positions, including security structures. One of his sons-in-law, Oibek Tursunov, is head of the presidential administration. Meanwhile, Tursunov’s father, Batyr, holds a senior position in the National Guard. Yet another son-in-law, Otabek Shahanov, purportedly serves as deputy head of the presidential security details, the newspaper notes.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.