November 3, 2015

The Southern Front Against Russia

Russia's  armed aggression against Ukraine and its demonstrative military intervention into  the Syrian conflict actually leaves out of sight of the international community the radicalization of the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which, according to "Borysfen Intel"'s  experts,  is rapidly becoming a new area of ​​activity” of the Islamic State “(IS), and in fact — the third (after Ukraine and Syria) — the Southern front for the Russian Federation.

The IS militants' penetration into  Afghanistan happened in 2013–2014 from the territory of Pakistan, individual parts of China as well as from countries of  the Middle East and Central Asia. However, they soon came into conflict with the movement “Taliban”, which consists mainly of local residents of Pashtun ethnicity.

In the first half of 2015, this situation changed significantly. The lack of strong leaders in the “Taliban” after the death of Mullah Omar (Mohammed Omar / Saeed Mohamed Akhundzade — Pashto / — founder of the “Taliban” movement, “Emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, died April 23, 2013) forced the Taliban to make certain compromises in terms of redistribution of spheres of influence in the country. Thus, the Taliban are still struggling for power in Afghanistan, while the “Islamic State” focuses on the propagation of Islamism  beyond its borders- namely, in Central Asia with a view to Muslim regions of Russia (the Volga region and the North Caucasus).



As part of this reallocation, the IS militias are concentrated in the northern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Samangan, Balkh, Faryab and Dzhuzdzhan adjacent to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is on the territory of these provinces that basic cells of the “Islamic State” are concentrated (a total of tens of thousands of fighters).

Taking into consideration  the situation in Central Asia, the IS' attention is focused  mainly on Tajikistan, where there is the greatest tension due to the of the Tajik authorities' being unable  to ensure effective control over its territory. In particular, out of  such control there remains the area of ​​Nagornyi  Badakhshan, bordering on Afghanistan and China. It is here that the  armed formations of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) are based and  keeping in touch with the “Islamic State”.

The evidence of  the critical state of Tajikistan's internal problems was the attempt of an armed rebellion at the beginning of  September 2015, under the leadership of the current Deputy Defense Minister Major General A. Nazarzoda (a member of the “Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan”, during the civil war in 1992–1997 was one of the leading field commanders of the UTO, after the peace agreement, he and his subordinate units were incorporated into the government troops on under 30 % quota for the opposition).



Абдухалим Назарзода Мирзо

September 4, this year, a group of militants numbering up to 70 people, headed by A. Nazarzoda,  disarmed the Guard Battalion of the Commandant Regiment of the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan in Dushanbe, and seized a lot of weapons. At the same time, another group of approximately 30 militants, headed by A. Nazarzoda accomplice — a former employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan H. Abdulloev attacked the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the city of Vahdat (20km from Dushanbe).

After an armed attack, the  two militant groups in trucks moved to Nagornyi Badakhshan. As a result of the incident, and the  Tajikistan's government's  further attempts  to eliminate the extremists, 9 employees of the MIA of Tajikistan and 13 attackers were killed .

The rebellion was due to the fact that the Tajik authorities, violating the peace agreement of 1997, banned the activity of the “Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan”.  This caused a very negative reaction from supporters of the idea of ​​returning the country to the Islamic way of development. In turn, this has created a powerful detonator of social explosion in Tajikistan on religious grounds.


Today all this is actively used by the leaders of the “Islamic State” to strengthen their positions on the  territory of Tajikistan  by  attracting to its ranks of local Islamists, and as the IS militias' breakthroughs into  Tajikistan. In particular, since the beginning of 2015 at least 80 of such attempts have been reported- almost three times more than last year. According to the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rakhmon, in October 2015, the real combat operations are conducted at more than 60% of the Tajik-Afghan border.

In its turn, Tajikistan is becoming a strategic “springboard” from which the “Islamic State” will continue to move into the Central Asian countries — namely, into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Especially because these countries have significant internal and inter-state problems.

Thus, the most likely target for the IS' further  actions can become  Ferghana Valley, which is located on the border between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and  is the area where a wide range of inter-ethnic conflicts of  economic and social character are concentrated. In particular, the region has the highest density and diversity of the population in Central Asia at a sufficiently limited natural resources and very low economic development of the local infrastructure.

In recent decades, in the Ferghana Valley there have been clashes between different groups of the local population on the basis of ethnic conflicts, as well as due to the struggle for access to agricultural land and sources of fresh water. All this leads to the spread of radical Islamist sentiments among the people of the region and forms a favorable environment for the activities of the “Islamic State”.

Quite tense is the situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, with its unresolved historical conflict between the southern and northern clans of the country. This has several times taken the form of mass social unrest resulting in   the revolutionary change of power in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010. The IS also takes advantage of  the unresolved conflicts here.

Despite the rigid totalitarian system of the Uzbek government, stability in the country is threatened by the activities of Islamist terrorist organization “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” (IMU), the cells of which  are actually all over  the Central Asian region (in Ferghana Valley included). Today the IMU, having taken the oath of allegiance to the ideas and leaders of the “Islamic State”, are actually the IS' subbordinates.

A separate direction of  the "Islamic State"'s activity is influence on Turkmenistan, which is important in terms of  the country's significant reserves of energy carriers. However, unlike other countries in Central Asia, the situation in Turkmenistan is relatively stable due to the effective work of the security services  and more or less good level of life of the local population, as well as due to  the Turkmen authorities' traditional policy to support normal relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Taking into consideration all the above-said, the IS has resorted to the tactics of active terrorist war against Turkmenistan. Thus, there are constant attacks on positions of the Border Troops of Turkmenistan and of  the  neighboring with Afghanistan areas of the country with mortars and small arms. Besides,  sabotage and reconnaissance groups are widely used to attack the Turkmen law enforcement units  in the border line. As a consequence, the Turkmen side has lost at least 30 soldiers within a month.

According to Turkmen experts, in the nearest future the militants of the “Islamic State” will mainly resort to sabotage and terrorist acts in the Mari region of Turkmenistan, where there are the main objects of industrial production of the country and the strategically important gas pipelines (Turkmenistan-China and the Central Asia-Center).

Until September 2015 the above-mentioned  processes while acquiring permanent activation, were limited within the territory of Afghanistan and the surrounding areas of neighboring Central Asian countries. The catalyst for the deterioration of the situation has become Russia's military intervention into the Syrian events that has really put Moscow in an uncompromising confrontation with the whole Sunni part of the Muslim world.

The matter is that both, the Taliban and insurgents of the “Islamic state”, as well as most of Central Asia and Muslim regions of Russia - the Volga and the North Caucasus regions (in general, 18% of the population of Russia) are the Sunnites. So, by the military actions in Syria,  Vladimir Putin's regime  with its own hands is creating preconditions for the transfer of the activity of the Islamists from Afghanistan, not only into the Central Asian region, but also onto the territory of the Russian Federation.



In this situation, the Russian Federation's  leadership activates measures to counteract spreading  of radical Islamism  from Afghanistan, including, through involving the  CIS countries. Thus, during the closed summit of the CIS countries on October 15–16 this year in Kazakhstan, the RF President Vladimir Putin openly recognized the critical nature of the situation in Afghanistan, from which the Islamic extremism comes to Central Asia and Russia.

Given the rapid growth of such threats, the summit participants approved the Program of Cooperation on Border Security for  2016–2020, as well as the Concept of Military Cooperation between the CIS member states until 2020. The documents   provide for the  increased funding to strengthen security of the  Central Asian countries' borders with Afghanistan. Besides, there is a possibility of setting up joint groups of forces to respond to crises.

The increasing threat of the IS militants invasion into  Central Asia was also mentioned at the 39th meeting of the Council of heads of security and special services of the CIS countries at the end of October this year in Moscow. Special concern was expressed about the presence in the armed forces of the “Islamic state” of a large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including from Central Asia and Muslim regions of Russia.

Based on the above-mentioned  circumstances, Moscow, helping to strengthen the borders of Central Asian countries, is making efforts to strengthen the CSTO, as well as to build up  its military presence in the Central Asian region. In particular, within the framework of the CSTO, Russia has  increased funds for the modernization of the Armed Forces of Tajikistan - about 1.23 billion US dollars and of the  Armed Forces and Kyrgyzstan — about 1 billion US dollars.

It also provides assistance for strengthening the protection of the Tajikistan's  border with Afghanistan, namely: there is a program of technical equipping this section of the border with  special means for radar monitoring , seismic sensors, spotlights and other technical devices. The program costs are  estimated at more than 1 million US dollars.  At the same time, Moscow is trying to talk  Dushanbe into returning Russian border units to the Tajik-Afghan border (they were withdrawn in the early 2000s).

Besides, Russia, despite Turkmenistan's neutral status,  imposes its aid also for the protection of the Turkmen-Afghan border, with potential deployment of Russian troops in the border zone.

At the same time, it is urgently improving the combat capabilities of the RF Armed Forces' military base (MB) in Tajikistan by arming it with new types of armored vehicles, artillery systems and means of control, communications and intelligence. In particular, by the end of the year the units of  this military base are  planned to get new BTR-82A (about 100 units). There is being worked out  a plan for the deployment in Tajikistan of a new helicopter group (2-4 attack helicopters Mi-24P and 4-6 military transport helicopters Mi-8 MTV), which will be promptly submit to the MB 201 deployed at the Aini airfield (near Dushanbe).

In connection with the increased activity of the Islamists,  in May 2015,  on the territory of Tajikistan there were held trainings of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the CSTO. Questions were studied to prevent breakthrough the Tajik-Afghan border of armed groups of extremists and to search and eliminate subversive and terrorist groups.

However, such actions do not in any way guarantee Russia that it will reach its goals. For example, despite all Moscow's efforts,   today the CSTO remains a quite weak and amorphous organization that cannot carry out combat missions independently,  without the leading participation of Russians. At the same time the leaders of the Central Asian countries are lost in the face of the threat of Islamic extremism, and in some cases use Russia's aid  only to strengthen their positions of power.

Moreover, there are serious problems regarding the loyalty of personnel of security agencies of Central Asian countries, both, to their  own leadership, and  to the Russian Federation. In particular, since the beginning of July 2015,  in Turkmenistan alone,  for  relationships with the Islamists more than 60 officers of the Turkmen Armed Forces, the National Security Ministry, Interior Ministry and Prosecutor's Office have been detained.

The  negative attitude of the population of Central Asia to the Russian military bases on their territory grows.  The reason for this is the Russian troops' snub to local traditions and population, accompanied by outrages against civilians.

Thus, in 2014–2015 alone,  through the fault of military servicemen  of the 149  SMEs MB 201 of the Russian Armed Forces in the Tajikistan's  town of Kulyab,  15 Tajik citizens were killed and 20 were injured. In 2015, has grown the number of incidents connected with provoked by the Russian military conflicts with the local population on ethnic and religious grounds.

Such a situation arose during the arrival at the service of the Russian troops in Tajikistan of  contract officers, professing chauvinist and neo-fascist ideas and easily  resorting to violence against non-Slavic population (Tajiks), as is observed in the territory of Russia itself. At this, the Russian military cover up their actions with  slogans like  “...we are the occupying army and we do everything in a Christian way and at our own discretion”.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned, a number of political parties, public organizations and local leaders of Tajikistan have sent a joint statement to the Parliament, the Government and the Ministry of Defense with the demand to remove immunity from Russian military servicemen, as well as to move  the place of the dislocation of all units of the 201st Russian military base outside of the Tajik cities not less than 10–15 km. The negative attitude to the Russian military base is also demonstrated by the  Defense Minister of Tajikistan Sh. Mirzo and by majority of  senior officials of the Defense Ministry  of the country.

These circumstances are forcing Russia to be more attentive to the issues of counteracting the Islamic extremism on its  own and  directly on its own territory. Thus, in September 2015, within the Central Military District of the Armed Forces (Bashkortostan, as well as Novosibirsk, Samara and Chelyabinsk regions) there were held strategic command and staff  trainings “Center-2015” with working on the tasks to contain and neutralize an armed conflict in the Central Asian strategic direction.

In the Trainings “Center-2015” there participated  not less than 95 thousand military servicemen, more than 7 thousand combat vehicles, 170 aircrafts and 20 ships of the Russian Armed Forces, units of control and  units of other  law enforcement agencies of Russia (including  of the Ministry of  Internal Affairs, Ministry of Emergency Situations and FSB), as well as the Operational Group and units of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan — part of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the CSTO.

All this requires Russia's considerable additional allocation of military, financial and material resources, but it does not guarantee its success in the struggle  against the Islamists. As the experience in the Middle East shows, the idea of ​​Islamic radicalism, which is supported by a large part of the local population, cannot be overcome with the help of the armed forces alone.

In fact, Russia itself  must have seen this on the example of the North Caucasus region in the 1990s. A similar situation will for sure soon arise in Central Asia, and later in the so far Russian Volga region, and again in the North Caucasus. Especially because the Islamists already have the experience of  combating Slavic Russia in Afghanistan and in the North Caucasus.