Turkmen borders are under attack from "Islamic State"

Feb 18, 2015 12:00 AM

By Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, especially for Vestnik Kavkaza.

Turkmenistan has announced the mobilization of military reservists. The necessary measure is dictated by the escalation of tension on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Turkmenistan's borders since the beginning of this year have been repeatedly attacked by the militant grouping "Islamic State" ("IS") from the direction of Afghanistan. As stated in Ashgabat, the Turkmen authorities and troops are ready to repel an act by "IS".

Mobilization of the military reservists of Turkmenistan - reserve officers and men - began in late January and will continue for another few months. For a while, they are called on a three-month military training, which they will undergo mostly near their place of residence. Experts say that the Turkmen army suffers from a lack of military personnel. This is caused by the transition to a 12-year education in secondary school, which previously was only 10 years, as well as a reduction of military service for graduates of Turkmen universities up to one year. These "distortions" began to be corrected in the fall of last year. In November, corrections to the law "On Military Duty and Military Service in Turkmenistan" were made, according to which in most universities in the country military departments were closed, and now graduates will serve two years in the army, like all other citizens.

"The specifics of the law enforcement agencies of Turkmenistan, including the border guards, are related to the status of neutrality and characteristics of the Turkmen political regime. The military doctrine, which was approved in 2009, implies that the main threat to the state comes not from without, but from within the country. Therefore, the reform of the armed forces is to strengthen the role of the president's personal guard services, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State Security. The Interior Ministry and its affiliated companies, as well as the Ministry for State Security, mostly preserved the structures of the police and the KGB, concentrating on fighting crime and political crimes respectively. In terms of reflecting the external threats to Turkmenistan, especially on their land borders, it is extremely vulnerable," expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexander Knyazev, told Vestnik Kavkaza. He believes that it is no coincidence that reports of such incidents on the Turkmen-Afghan border have increasingly appeared in the reports of news agencies.

The last post about a concentration of "IS" units in the Turkmen border area caused a lot of noise. Senator of the Afghan parliament Gulmhammed Rasuli announced the transfer of "IS" militias of the southern provinces of Afghanistan to the north, where recruitment of the local population to "IS" squads is particularly intense. This is understandable - in the north of Afghanistan live many descendants of the Turkmen "Muhajirs", who fled in the years 1920-1930 across the border from the Soviet authorities. It is about influential Turkmen tribal clans settled in the border areas on the Afghan side. Their demands for restitution of "ancestral lands" have been repeatedly heard in recent years. Such sentiments are dangerous to modern Turkmenistan. Especially considering the fact that close to the ground, which is claimed by the Afghan Turkmen are the Serakhs and Merv (Mary) oases, there are the two large gas-rich regions "Dowletabat-Donmez" and "Galkinish", and the group of gas fields "South Yolotan-Osman", "Minar "and "Yashlar”. It is from these fields that natural gas is exported to China. Alexander Knyazev notes that in the units of the Taliban there are many Afghan Turkmen. Experts believe they have taken control of almost all of the territory, which could potentially be routed to the gas pipeline Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI).


"In the last months of this year, cross-border situation has deteriorated in the areas of Kushka and Tahta-Bazaar. Crossfires occur almost daily. There is no direct confrontations or fights, but it is clear that the border is being "shattered" - sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. The Turkmen authorities throw combat units from site to site, but they cannot seriously strengthen the border - the infrastructure is not ready along a substantial portion of the line, and the frequency of placement of frontier posts almost doubles," Knyazev said.

Meanwhile, a Lt. Col. of Turkmenistan going under yhe name "Soltanam", speaking on radio "Azatlyk" (the Turkmen service of Radio "Liberty"), said that he is confident in the ability of the country to deflect "any military ambitions." "They would not dare to go to Turkmenistan, because they know that they will get it in the teeth," he said. "They are, perhaps, strong ... in the mountains, but on the plains of Turkmenistan they will be defeated." Along the way, he noted that in recent years the Turkmen army combat capability has increased through the procurement of modern weapons. "Soltanam" expressed his conviction that "Afghani Turkmens living along the border do not support Islamists that appear there." "On the contrary, the elders of the Turkmen tribes in Afghanistan dissuade young people from going under the black banner of "IS", explaining to them that this abroad is their historic homeland -Turkmenistan," the Turkmen colonel said.

"International attention is now focused on Ukraine, therefore, on Russia. There seems to be a center of danger, people already started talking seriously about the danger of sliding into a world war, a nuclear conflict. Think about it, does it hurt the leaders of "IS"? After all, people began to forget about them. They attract attention only by another massacre of hostages. Hence the attempts by new adepts of "IS", whether it is on the borders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, or in other northern Afghan provinces, reminding about themselves with noisy and loud threats, begin operations around the Afghan-Pakistani region," expert on Central Asia and political scientist Arkady Dubnov told Vestnik Kavkaza. It is necessary to take into account that former militants of "Al Qaeda" and "Taliban" have risen under the banner of "IS", as any neophyte requires publicity, fast and effective, and this can only be achieved by armed attacks on neighboring states."

Meanwhile, the new US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Allan Mustard, said at his first press conference in Ashgabat, that Washington is ready to help Turkmenistan to strengthen security, but only if such a request is received from the authorities of the country. "While such proposals from the Government of Turkmenistan have been reported. We are working on all issues," said Mustard. He also added that he has no information about the presence of "IS" militia in the region.

His colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Daniel Rosenblum, also said that Washington intends to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and to assist them in countering "IS". According to him, the US does not want to see the countries of Central Asia as a safe haven for terrorists, and wants to see a stable and prosperous state.

"The geographical position of the countries of Central Asia is of interest to the United States, we are planning to expand cooperation with the governments of these countries in the field of security, the economy, the development of the human dimension," the representative summed up.

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