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IMU incursion prediction puts Kyrgyzstan on alert
Unlike 2000, Kyrgyz security officials say they’re ready to repel any attack
By Alisher Karimov
BATKEN, Kyrgyzstan – As some security officials and analysts warn of a possible extremist incursion into Kyrgyzstan Batken Oblast this summer, all say the country is ready to thwart any attack by Islamic militants.
While the recent inter-ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan’s south may be seen as an opportunity by militants, officials say any conflict will not be a repeat of events in 2000, when Kyrgyz forces were only able to defeat extremists after suffering heavy losses.
The Kyrgyz-Tajik border has been seriously reinforced over the past ten years, Batken Oblast Governor Sultanbai Aydzhigitov said. “Our officers and soldiers are much better armed and prepared than in 2000,” he said.
President Roza Otunbayeva named Zakir Tilenov the new State National Security Service (GSNB) border troop commander July 20, and immediately sent him and others to Batken Oblast to check the combat readiness of frontier posts along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), al-Qaeda or the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) might attempt a Batken incursion in late July or early August, GSNB chief Keneshbek Duishebayev told journalists July 12. Vice-Premier Amangeldy Muraliyev issued a similar warning last week.
IMU made previous incursion
IMU fighters infiltrated Batken Oblast in 1999 and 2000 via mountain passes from Tajikistan in an effort to destabilise the Ferghana Valley. Kyrgyz soldiers, border troops and police killing many of the militants and chased the rest back into Tajikistan, but suffered heavy casualties.
Deficiencies in combat readiness no longer exist, Cholponbek Turusbekov, first deputy commander of the GSNB border troops, said.
“We are aware that (a new) incursion may occur. We have transferred additional border guard and army units from the north to reinforce the positions where hostile breakthroughs are most likely,” Turusbekov said. “We have grown stronger and learned the lessons of ten years ago, so we are ready for any (problems) now.”
Several militant groups already have a presence in the Ferghana Valley, and while their exact number is unknown they may number several thousand strong, Alexander Sobyanin, chief of the planning service of Russia’s Cross-Border Co-operation Association, said.
Prediction of attack draws various responses
Although all is well so far, only the dates have changed, not the scenario of the possible attack, Sobyanin said.
“Confused with our warnings and our forces' activity, the militants have delayed the incursion until late July or early August, which is what Vice-Premier Muraliyev said in his warning,” Sobyanin said. “There isn’t a single serious reason for anyone to ignore our forecasts.”
But Kyrgyz political scientist Mars Sariyev questioned the possibility of an incursion and noted that any third-party interference would be unwelcome.
“I don’t believe in this scenario,” Sariyev said. “Interethnic clashes led to the redeployment of considerable forces to the south, so any potential attack – should it occur, after all – would be repelled. But there are some less protected border stretches where breakthroughs might be possible, and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) intervention would have a 50-50 chance of occurring in the event of an attack. But that would pose a threat to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty.”
Better to be prepared
Organisations such as the IMU or UTO are unable to stage a large-scale intervention in the Ferghana Valley, Rustam Burnashev, an analyst at the Kazakhstani Institute of Political Solutions, said.
“For all I know, the IMU leaders’ priority task today is to get a firmer foothold in north-eastern Afghanistan; so I don’t think they may attempt to destabilise the situation in the Ferghana Valley. Besides, they are busy consolidating their organisation from within,” he said. “As regards the UTO, it has long since become a thing of the past. Some individual UTO field commanders are underworld leaders today, but as a military or political force, the UTO is non-existent.”
Still, it's better to be prepared, some counselled.
“We should pay heed to Sobyanin’s warnings, but we must check his information,” political scientist Toktogul Kakchekeyev said. “We are sufficiently strong in the south and nationwide to repel an incursion. The 2000 events in Batken taught us a good lesson.”
CTSO intervention could be helpful, Kakchekeyev and Dmitry Aleksandrov, an analyst at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, said.
“The CSTO might react to an international terrorist incursion, should it occur,” Aleksandrov said. “But a large-scale military intervention would be unlikely – rather, we might expect some separate raids by small or larger fighter groups, not full-scale warfare.”