On September 22, the Tajik army and law enforcement agencies began a massive security operation in the Rasht valley in the country’s east. The operation reportedly targets former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) rebels and “foreign mercenaries” who were behind the deadly assault on government forces three days earlier. The UTO was a loose alliance of Islamic and democratic activists that opposed the government of President Emomali Rahmon in the country’s 1992-1997 civil war. The Rasht valley with its rough terrain and strong Islamic traditions served as a UTO stronghold during the war.
23 soldiers were killed and many more critically wounded when a group of military vehicles was ambushed in the Kamarob gorge in Rasht valley on September 19. Another five soldiers died in hospital from the wounds they received in what appears to be the deadliest attack against government forces since the end of the civil war.
On September 19, 23 soldiers were killed and 15 wounded as a convoy of military vehicles passing through the increasingly volatile Rasht valley in eastern Tajikistan was ambushed by “heavily armed gunmen.” Another eight soldiers died later of the wounds they sustained in the assault (www.regnum.ru, September 23). The ambush became the deadliest in a series of recent security incidents in the country. It also highlighted the Rasht valley, an Islamic opposition stronghold during the Tajik civil war in 1992-1997, which has recently reemerged as a major security issue facing President Emomali Rahmon’s administration.
The Tajik defense ministry has blamed the assault on “Islamic militants” led by former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) rebels (www.avesta.tj, September 20). UTO was a coalition of Islamic and democratic forces that fought against the government of President Rahmon in the civil war in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan faces a deteriorating security situation following the escape of 25 high-profile prisoners from a detention center in Dushanbe run by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) on August 23. The convicts escaped less than one week after they had been sentenced to lengthy terms in prison on charges related to terrorism and drug trafficking. Some of the escapees reportedly have ties with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), designated by the US State Department as a terrorist group, and rebel militants in Russia’s North Caucasus republics (www.asiaplus.tj, http://www.khovar.tj, August 23).
According to the justice ministry, the escape occurred due to the “negligence” of GKNB guards. The ministry claims that an inmate, former Guantanamo detainee, Ibrohim Nasriddinov, killed one of three guards at the detention center, seized another two guards and opened all the cells. Afterwards, the 25 convicts stole firearms and escaped, killing another four guards (Nigoh, September 2).
Alovuddin Davlatov (also known as Ali Bedak), a warlord that had fought for the Islamic opposition forces during Tajikistan’s civil war in 1992-1997, was behind the deadly attack in eastern Tajikistan which killed at least 23 soldiers on September 19, according to his brother, Husniddin. In a televised appearance on major national channels yesterday (September 20), Davlatov’s brother asserted that Ali Bedak and his militants planned and carried out the attack. He also said:
My brother now has more than 100 [fighters] under his supervision. These include foreign mercenaries. He set up a terrorist camp in the mountainous areas of the Rasht valley. In this camp, he taught young people and children the basics of terrorist and subversive operations (TV Shabakai Yakum, September 20).
At least 23 soldiers were killed in eastern Tajikistan on September 19. According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson Faridun Mahmadaliev, the troops were killed as their trucks were ambushed by heavily armed militants near Rasht, the centre of the volatile Rasht valley that had been the Islamic opposition stronghold during the 1992-1997 civil war. Mahmadaliev has blamed the “terrorist act” on Islamist militants with links to terrorist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia’s volatile Chechnya. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon who is now in New York attending the UN MDG summit instructed security agencies to capture and punish those who had carried out the attack. Meanwhile, some independent media have put the estimates of soldiers killed in the ambush at 40, suggesting that at least ten troops were wounded (Asia Plus, Avesta, Khovar, Regnum.ru, Pressa.tj, September 20).
The incident further deteriorated the security situation in Tajikistan that has experienced sporadic violence over the last month. Many observers have blamed the upsurge in violence on the escape of 25 high-profile inmates – many with links to terrorist groups – from a detention centre in Dushanbe on August 23. Seven of the escapees have been recaptured by Tajik security agencies, while another 18 still remain at large.