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The Tajikistan Attacks and Islamist Militancy in Central AsiaMilitants in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley ambushed a military convoy of 75 Tajik troops Sept. 19, killing 25 military personnel according to official reports and 40 according to the militants, who attacked from higher ground with small arms, automatic weapons and grenades. The Tajik troops were part of a nationwide deployment of security forces seeking to recapture 25 individuals linked to the United Tajik Opposition militant groups that had escaped from prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 24. The daring prison break was conducted by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and saw five security guards killed and the country put on red alert. According to the Tajik government, after the escape, most of the militants fled to the Rasht Valley, an area under the influence of Islamist militants that is hard to reach for Tajikistan’s security forces and thus rarely patrolled by troops.
Sunday’s attack was one of the deadliest clashes between militants and the Tajik government since the Central Asian country’s civil war ended in 1997. The last comparable attack was in 1998, when militants ambushed a battalion of Interior Ministry troops just outside Dushanbe, killing 20 and kidnapping 110. Sunday’s incident was preceded by a Sept. 3 attack on a police station that involved a suicide operative and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in the northwest Tajik city of Khujand that killed four police officers. Suicide attacks are rare in Tajikistan, and VBIEDs even more so. The Khujand attack also stands out as it occurred outside militant territory. Khujand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city after the capital, is located at the mouth of the Fergana Valley, the largest population center in Central Asia.
This represents a noticeable increase in the number and professionalism of militant operations in Tajikistan. Regardless of whether the September attacks can be directly linked to the Aug. 24 jailbreak in Dushanbe, the sudden re-emergence of attacks in Tajikistan after a decade of quiet in Central Asia deserves our attention. In short, something is percolating in the valleys of Central Asia that has reawakened militant groups more or less dormant for a decade. This unrest will likely continue and possibly grow if Tajik security forces can’t get control of the situation.
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