Russia is currently considering having regular troops on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan to counter the Taliban insurgents’ increased activities, according to General Yuri Borisov, Russia’s deputy defense minister.
Last week, Vladimir Putin had talks with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon in which he said Russia was concerned about the situation in Tajikistan and Central Asia as a whole. Rakhmon insisted that more than sixty percent of the Tajik border has seen some sort of conflict.
Colonel-General Igor Sergun, head of the Russian GRU, remarked that Afghanistan could become a main Islamic base for Central Asian operations which would pose a serious threat to the Russian Federation. Many ISIS militants may also appear in the area in the near future due to Russia’s successful airstrikes in Syria.
What sparked Russia’s willingness to seal the border is likely the recent Taliban offensive in the Afghan province of Kunduz, bordering Tajikistan. Kunduz is stragically important as it is a gateway connecting Central Asia with Afghanistan and South Asia. Bordering Afghanistan’s Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces, where Taliban have recently been very active, the 1,400-kilometre-long border definitely needs more security.
The 201st Motorized Rifle Division, permanently based in Tajikistan, is a 7,000-strong Russian military unit.The Division is stationed at three different facilities in Tajikistan; the air base outside Dushanbe, and two others in southern Khatlon Province. The 201st is Russia’s largest military contingent deployed abroad. However, the 201st does not participate in border security. Nevertheless, since the division is already in Tajikistan, Russia could very well order them to quickly deploy to the border until reinforcements arrives.
Russia also plans to increased the deployed troops in Tajikistan to 9,000 and provide more military equipment through 2020.
That said, Russia and Tajikistan are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), meaning they are bound to security obligations. Earlier this year, Russia supplied more than 1.2 billion worth of weapons and military equipment to Tajikistan, to help them to fend off the Islamic threat.
Earlier this month, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced they were sending attack and transport helicopter to strenghten its deployed force in Tajikistan, the official representative of Russia’s Central Military District Yaroslav Roschupkin told journalists.
“The military capabilities of the 201st military base <…> will be enhanced by helicopter aviation. The created aerial grouping will be based in the Gissar district of Tajikistan, at the Aini air base 30 kilometers from Dushanbe,” Roschupkin told journalists.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) also consider the ISIS threat as real and recognize the organization’s ability to quickly blend into other terrorist groups and spread its influence across borders. When Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-OMON Colonel, defected to the Islamic States, his plan was to reestablish sharia law in Tajikistan. His defection was a major propaganda success for the Islamic State and revealed that the local authorities cannot be trusted if threats comes from insiders.
An anonymous defense expert cited by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting claimed that the recent events in Kunduz is not a direct threat to “Tajikistan, whereas Islamic State does.”
“The Kunduz battle does not pose a direct hazard for Tajikistan, whereas Islamic State does. The Taleban are focused on regaining power in Afghanistan, whereas Islamic State has global ambitions. Central Asia is not on Islamic State’s priority list at the moment, but the region is part of its strategic plan to expand its influence to the whole Muslim world.”
Islamic States militants coming from Central Asia may also return home with the intent of starting jihad on their home soil. A well-defended border could enhance the security and a better control of whom cross the borders as a terrorist, making them unable to bring a jihad to their hometowns.
Althoug no official decision was taken by Russia, it is more than likely that we will soon see Russian soldiers conducting interdiction patrols along the border. Defense positions left unmanned by Russia since 1995 could very well be once again occupied.