ISIL on Turkmen-Afghan border

Turkmen authorities are carefully monitoring the development of the situation on the border and trying to prevent escalation, analysts say.

By Dzhumaguly Annayev, 2015-02-05,

ASHGABAT – Units of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) reportedly have begun massing on the Afghan border with Turkmenistan, but Turkmen officials and troops are ready for them.

ISIL forces were moving northward from southern Afghanistan, media reported in late January, quoting the Afghan National Directorate for Security (NDS). They recently appeared in Almar District, Faryab Province, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service reported January 22.

“Natives of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have been observed among them,” Afghan Senator Gulmuhammad Rasuli, who represents Faryab Province, said.

Information from NDS authorities and from Faryab Province residents indicates that the appearance of ISIL could worsen the situation on the border, Rasuli said.

“The ‘jihadists’ are trying to create a centre for themselves in Faryab,” he said, citing the opening of a militant training camp in the village of Shah.

Observers see reason for concern
If militants try to expand their sphere of influence into Central Asia, they bear watching, analysts said.

Turkmenistan would be the first target if ISIL militants in Afghanistan are looking north, analyst Semen Bagdasarov said.

“In [Turkmenistan] many natural resources exist,” he said. “The Islamists-‘jihadists’ will ignore Turkmenistan’s neutrality.”

Turkmen authorities have reason to keep an eye on any militant build-up along their border, given how in 2014 the Afghan Taliban killed several Turkmen border guards in a number of ambushes.

But Turkmen army Lt. Col. Soltan N. has confidence in the ability of his country to ward off any militant ambitions.

They won’t dare “infiltrate Turkmenistan, because they know they’d bite off more than they can chew,” he said.

“They might be strong … in their own mountains, but on the Turkmen plains, they’d be defeated,” he said, citing the Turkmen military’s acquisition of modern weapons in recent years.

The border troops will react fiercely if Afghan militants try anything this year, he said, citing better discipline and new weapons and equipment after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reprimanded their force last June.

Situation under control
Turkmen military officers and government officials say they’re constantly watching the militants in northern Afghanistan and have acquired some encouraging information.

The militants lack either order or a unified command, Soltan N. said, citing intelligence gathered by Afghanistan. The militant units have rival goals and differ greatly, he said. For example, ISIL and the Taliban appear to be more competitors than allies, media have reported.

“The ethnic Turkmens along the Afghan frontier reject the Islamists who have appeared there,” he said. “Turkmen tribal elders [in Afghanistan] dissuade their youth from joining the Islamists, explaining that [Turkmenistan] is their historic motherland.”

Even if the militants somehow poured into Turkmenistan, they wouldn’t find enough Turkmens willing to support their idea of a “caliphate,” Ashgabat political scientist Aidan Arazbayev said.

They’d find only “a few isolated individuals,” he said.

By joint efforts
On the assumption that prosperity can help defeat militancy, Berdymukhamedov and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in January discussed a number of joint infrastructure projects during Ghani’s visit to Turkmenistan.

They expressed support for building the long-discussed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Turkmenistan railway and the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transit and transport corridor.

Ghani expressed gratitude for Turkmenistan’s various aid projects serving Afghanistan, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.

Further plans for Turkmen assistance include construction of a 20-bed maternity ward in Turgundi and a 300-bed children’s home in Sheberghan.

“This assistance is free of charge,” Arazbayev said. “It’s being done … exclusively to achieve peace and stability in long-suffering Afghanistan.”

News by Central Asia Online.

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