Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 159

On August 11, insurgents of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) based in Tajikistan forced their way into Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Region, which borders on both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The rebels used the same route they did in August 1999, when they had attempted to reach Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley via Kyrgyzstan. This year, however, the incursion into Kyrgyzstan provides a sideshow to the main rebel operation now underway in Uzbekistan itself (see previous story). The incursion probably aims to expose Kyrgyzstan’s vulnerability and draw Uzbekistan–as the region’s preeminent military power–into assisting the neighboring country. Such a dispersal of Uzbek resources could facilitate the mission of the IMU force in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek intelligence believes that Juma Namangani’s putative deputy, Rasul Akhunov, heads IMU’s detachment in Kyrgyzstan. The detachment would seem to number several hundred, but its actual size remains unclear because the rebels tend to operate in autonomous groups of eight to ten, just as they do in Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz government and military had long expected, and actively prepared to repel, a rebel incursion in Batken. Nevertheless, Kyrgyz forces reported losing as many as forty killed in mid-August, before stopping the rebels and pushing them back toward the Tajik border.

The insurgents now also operate in the Sokh district, an Uzbek enclave within Kyrgyzstan near the border between these two countries. Fighting in recent days has taken the form of skirmishes, often at night when the rebels take advantage of their night-vision devices. One rebel unit seized two groups of German, Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbek alpinists and held them for two weeks as hostages, but let them go free when government troops drew near. The alpinists reported that the rebels were extremely young–an indication that they may have grown up in the refugee camps of Uzbek Islamist expatriates in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.

The Kyrgyz task force of army, internal affairs, and border and state security troops is containing the rebels through its sheer size. President Askar Akaev, inspecting the combat zone, has pronounced himself satisfied with the troops’ performance and awarded medals to top commanders. The government’s communiques currently speak of “mopping-up operations” and preventive mining of mountain passes along the Tajik-Kyrgyz and Kyrgyz-Uzbek borders. Nevertheless, an August 27 communique announced that the “terrorists” had begun operating also in the Jalalabad Region, and that Kyrgyz and Uzbek forces had set up joint headquarters there, preparatory to “search-and-destroy” missions against the rebels (Itar-Tass, August 13, 16, 25; KyrgyzKabar, Bishkek Radio, August 23-28; Vecherny Bishkek, August 23; Slovo Kirgizii, August 25).

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