Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 159

Uzbek government troops continue battling the Islamist guerrilla groups which penetrated into Uzbekistan in early August from Tajikistan. The guerrillas are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an expatriate force led by Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldash from sanctuaries in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The insurgents have been operating in three areas of Uzbekistan. The first is a high-altitude area in the Surkhandaria Region’s Saryassiya and Uzun districts, situated in southern Uzbekistan near Tajikistan. From the outset of their offensive operation, the rebels established base camps and supply depots in those two districts. The second area is the Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk district, located some 80 to 100 kilometers east of the country’s capital. The third area is in the Izboskan district of the Andijan Region, which forms a part of the Ferghana Valley and is situated in eastern Uzbekistan near Kyrgyzstan.

Most of the fighting has been taking place in Surkhandaria, where the rebel force is estimated at several hundred. The insurgents are holding out against a vastly superior task force of army, internal affairs, and border and state security troops. That force appears to be poorly trained, inadequately equipped and ineptly led. President Islam Karimov, inspecting the combat theater on August 22, severely criticized the performance of the task force command while conceding 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, Central Asia’s strongest by far. They are, however, armed with Soviet-era weaponry, unsuitable for the type of warfare which is now underway. 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 unsuitable to an antiguerrilla operation. The command initially ordered all-out assaults on the insurgents–a tactic which exposed the troops to heavy casualties at the hands of the well-camouflaged insurgents.

After that initial stage, the command switched gears, seeking to encircle the insurgent-held area, preparatory to pinning down the rebel units and bringing superior firepower to bear on them. Uzbek tactical aviation and ground reconnaissance, however, seem unable to locate the rebel units with any precision. The Uzbek forces seem, moreover, unable to take prisoners or even to admit to a failure to capture rebel weapons such as might reveal the insurgents’ actual firepower and their supply sources. On his visit to the combat zone, Karimov instructed the command to “redeploy forces to areas likely to be the object of rebel incursions”–a clear admission that the rebels retain the advantage of tactical surprise over the military.

Meanwhile, the authorities withhold information on combat losses, even–or perhaps especially–after Karimov was quoted as criticizing the military for incurring unnecessary casualties. The authorities continue the policy of evacuating the population of villages which are deemed susceptible of takeover by rebels. Uzbek tactical aviation is bombing and strafing villages in which it guesses that the insurgents are present. On August 24, an officially controlled Tashkent newspaper listed four villages which were bombed and strafed, without specifying whether the population had been evacuated.

In the Andijan Region, troops of the Internal Affairs Ministry discovered and destroyed a rebel group which had infiltrated the town of Paytok. An Uzbek Colonel was killed in that clash on August 24. In the Tashkent Region’s Bostanlyk district, troops stopped and 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 of those incidents, the authorities reported that the rebels were moving in groups of eight each, operating autonomously–apparently the same tactic that the insurgents had employed in when penetrating Uzbekistan from Tajikistan in early August. On August 25, furthermore, a fifteen-strong rebel unit crossing in from Tajikistan killed five Uzbek border guards and moved on to Surkhandaria. The use of that tactic leaves open the possibility that small groups of similar size might currently be moving in the Andijan Region, or other parts of the Ferghana Valley, or toward Tashkent undetected by the authorities (Vatan Parvar, August 24, 26; Uzbek Television, Tashkent Radio, August 25, 26; Narodnoye Slovo (Tashkent), KyrgyzKabar, August 24; Itar-Tass, August 26, 28; see the Monitor, May 10, August 8, 10).