Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 17

IMU’s fighters returned to the home country from Tajikistan, the territory of which they have crossed with impunity several times during the past twelve months. In Uzbekistan, the guerrillas infiltrated three distinct areas. One is a high-altitude area in the Surkhandaria Region, situated in southern Uzbekistan near Tajikistan. From the outset of their operation, the rebels established base camps and supply caches there. The second is the Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk district, east of the Uzbek capital and not far from the border with Kazakhstan. The third area is in the Izboskan district of the Andijan Region, situated in eastern Uzbekistan near Kyrgyzstan.

Most of the fighting has been taking place in Surkhandaria, where the rebel force was initially estimated at several hundred. The Uzbek task force of army, internal affairs, border, and state security troops, however massive, appears to be poorly trained, inadequately equipped and ineptly led. President Islam Karimov, on an inspection of the combat theater, severely criticized the performance of the task force command. He also conceded that the troops were plagued by supply shortages and had gone into combat without proper training in antiguerrilla and mountain warfare.

Karimov’s published remarks, as well as official reporting in the military newspaper Vatan Parvar have–directly or indirectly–revealed a wide range of problems with the Uzbek forces. Although they are by far the strongest in Central Asia, their Soviet-era weaponry is unsuitable for antiguerrilla warfare and for operations in mountainous terrain. Ammunition and other combat supplies are slow to reach the troops. Soldiers are poorly kitted out, lacking such basics as night-vision devices, sniper rifles and modern communications equipment. Officers are using conventional warfare tactics, which were taught and practiced according to traditional Soviet methods, but which are not applicable to the operation now underway.

The command initially ordered all-out assaults on rebel positions–a tactic which exposed the troops to unnecessary casualties at the hands of the well-camouflaged insurgents. The command then switched tactics, trying to encircle the insurgent-held area, pin down the rebel units and bring superior firepower to bear on them. However, Uzbek tactical aviation and ground reconnaissance seem unable to locate the rebel units with any precision.

Meanwhile, the authorities have withheld information on combat losses, even–or perhaps especially–after Karimov was quoted as criticizing the military over the avoidable casualties. The authorities have evacuated the population of rebel-held and rebel-threatened villages. Uzbek aviation has bombed and strafed villages in which it suspected a rebel presence. It is not always clear whether the population of those villages had been evacuated ahead of the air raids.

In the Andijan Region, internal troops destroyed a rebel group which had infiltrated the town of Paytok. An Uzbek colonel was killed in that clash. In the Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk district, troops liquidated another rebel group which was trying to make its way toward the capital. The troops have set up a network of checkpoints, concrete-bloc obstacles and machine-gun placements on the roads leading to Tashkent. In both incidents, the authorities reported that the rebels were moving in groups of eight each, operating autonomously–apparently the same tactic the insurgents had employed when penetrating Uzbekistan from Tajikistan in early August. The use of that tactic leaves open the possibility that groups of similar size might be moving toward the Ferghana Valley or toward Tashkent, undetected by the authorities.