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The  201st Motorized Rifle Division: Russia's army in Tajikistan

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Tajikistan

Tajikistan is one of 3 Central Asian republics, formerly part of the Soviet Union, which border on Afghanistan. The others are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Like Uzbekistan, it is not a stable environment for the US, especially in the context of the planned assaults on Afghanistan and Irak: it was recently the scene of a bloody civil war (1992-1997, up to 50,000 deaths) between a central government still caught up in Soviet era values and islamic "fundamentalists." The situation is volatile, see State Department Warning.

Bin Laden has been reported in several media, including Israeli and Indian (PTI), as having taken over a former Soviet nuclear missile base in the little Pamir, the thin strip of Afghanistan just south of Tajikistan that stretches to China and is wedged up against Pakistan, providing numerous exit points. Not a bad strategic location, considering that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which he and the Taliban support, has been poised for an all out jihad over the Central Asian republics and China. According to several articles, everyone expected a major assault last spring or this summer.  Perhaps it has been held in reserve...

The Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division, based in Tajikistan, has allegedly been selected to go into Afghanistan with US troops. Their history is not glorious, they were implicated in massacres of muslims during the recent civil war.top

The Afghan -Tadjik border is porous and well knows to Afghan smugglers, whose profile - SUVs, night vision equipment - fits that of the international brigade, mostly Arabs, who fight under bin Laden. These vehicles take opium north through the Pamir, via Khorugh, and return south with arms: the Afghan version of the Contra Resupply operation - not surprising, since both originate in CIA tradecraft.

As a result of the civil war, Russian-led peacekeeping troops are based throughout the country, and Russian-commanded border guards are stationed along the border with Afghanistan. They have had a number of losses in skirmishes with the smugglers, but are also readily bribed.

The Sunni branch of Islam has a 1,200-year-old tradition in Central Asia, including the Tajiks. A small minority group, the Pamiris, are members of a much smaller denomination of Shia Islam, Ismailism, which first won adherents in Central Asia in the early tenth century. Despite persecution, Ismailism has survived in the remote Pamir Mountains bordering Afghanistan.

From Lonely Planet: "Travellers should also note that the economy is in ruins, and in many places trade takes place using a bartering system rather than cash. Food, and just about every other commodity, is in short supply, especially in the mountains. Do not venture out at night in Dushanbe and keep hotel doors locked at all times."

State Department Warningtop

TRAVEL WARNING (Issued September 26, 2001): The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to Tajikistan. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Department urges Americans residing in or visiting Tajikistan to reevaluate their continued presence there. The security situation in Tajikistan remains unstable, and the political situation is fluid. There have been outbreaks of fighting between government forces and former armed opposition leaders. These conflicts have included hostage taking and assassination. From time to time, the U.S. Embassy may suspend or otherwise restrict the travel of U.S. Embassy personnel to Tajikistan and within Tajikistan.

The Department of State relocated Embassy operations from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1998 due to threats to Americans and American interests worldwide, instability in Tajikistan and the limited ability to secure the safety of U.S. Embassy personnel in the Embassy facility in Dushanbe. All American diplomatic personnel currently reside in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and they travel periodically to Tajikistan.

During the summer periods of 1999 and 2000, Tajikistan experienced incursions of armed militants loyal to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The Secretary of State has designated the IMU as a foreign terrorist organization. In past years, IMU forces took foreigners as hostages. There have been reports indicating an incursion by the IMU into Tajikistan may occur again during 2001. Americans should particularly avoid areas along the borders with Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Karategin Valley, and Tavildara District."

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) top
backed by the Taliban and bin Laden

"The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) - protected by the Taliban and by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden - was nowhere to be seen in Tajikistan, at least during this summer. The IMU is the leading strategic threat to at least three Central Asian republics: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Everybody was expecting an IMU offensive this summer, starting in northern Afghanistan and spreading to the rich Ferghana Valley in Central Asia. Mysteriously, nothing happened.

[Perhaps the Central Asian jihad is being held in reserve...]

The IMU, founded in 1998, is headed by commander Juma Namangani, a native of the Ferghana Valley who had to fight for the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Until recently, the IMU's top item on the agenda was to exterminate Uzbek President Islam Karimov and turn the self-appointed Central Asian regional power into an Islamic state. Now, bolstered with recruits from Chechnya, Pakistan, Kashmir and other Central Asian republics, not to mention a substantial sprinkling of Arabs and Uighurs from Western China, the jihad has become pan-Central Asian.

The Russians became even more paranoid when Namangani proclaimed a new Central Asian party four months ago: the Hizb-I-Islami Turkestan (Islamic Party of Turkestan). The aim of this new organization is nothing less than to create an Islamic republic comprising the five former Soviet Central Asian republics, plus Xinjiang in China's far west.
" - THE ROVING EYE. Tajikistan: The reluctant republic, 8/31/01 Asia Times

The Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Divisiontop

"The main regular military force in Tajikistan at independence was the former Soviet 201st Motorized Rifle Division, headquartered in Dushanbe. This division, whose personnel are ethnically heterogeneous, came under jurisdiction of the Russian Federation in 1992 and remained under Russian command in early 1996. Officially neutral in the civil war, Russian and Uzbekistani forces, including armored vehicles of the 201st Division and armored vehicles, jets, and helicopters from Uzbekistan, provided significant assistance in antireformist assaults on the province of Qurghonteppa and on Dushanbe. The 201st Division failed to warn the inhabitants of Dushanbe that neo-Soviet forces had entered the city, nor did it interfere with the victors' wave of violence against opposition supporters in Dushanbe. In the ensuing months, the 201st Division was involved in some battles against opposition holdouts." - Russia's Role in the Early 1990s, Library of Congress

Links

Background

EurasiaNet
http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/tajikistan/index.shtml

THE ROVING EYE. Tajikistan: The reluctant republic, 8/31/01
VERY informative.

Geography.about.com links on Tajikistan

RUSSIA HAS MISGIVINGS ABOUT SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION EurasiaNet 6/20/01

IMU INSURGENCY THREATENS TAJIKISTANI POLITICAL RECONCILIATION Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies 9/2000

Delayed IMU Offensive

KYRGYZSTAN: Kyrgyz general fears offensive by IMU militants, 3/9/01 IRIN
UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/asia/countrystories/kyrgyzstan/20010309.phtml
"There are an estimate 2,000 IMU militants in Tajikistan."

THE ROVING EYE. Tajikistan: The reluctant republic, 8/31/01

Maps

http://www.multimap.com/wi/167782.htm
Map of Dzhartygumbez, Tajikistan, said by Israeli Intelligence to be US base for Delta and SEAL troops, 35 miles from Afghanistan. It's near Khorugh, transit town for Afghan opium smugglers on the road to Moscow.

New York Times map

Geography.about.com map with CIA Factbook

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