Afghanistan comes to the fore of Central Asian agenda. The situation has greatly exacerbated in the northern Afghan provinces. General John F. Campbell, the commander of the Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces – Afghanistan and the last commander of the International Security Assistance Force, spoke during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, May 23, 2015. According to him, the Islamic State group is actively recruiting in the country but is not yet operational there. General Campbell said the group’s sophisticated social media campaign was attracting Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, many were pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group. «We don’t want it to continue to grow», he said, adding that efforts were being made to ensure its presence did not reach levels similar to Syria and Iraq. «In fact, Taliban and Daesh are reportedly fighting each other», the General said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. «It is absolutely a concern».
This statement will hardly smooth worries away especially in view that nothing is done to rectify the situation as events unfold unfavorably for those who oppose the Islamic State. Until recently it had been widely believed that the central authorities in Kabul were fighting the Taliban. Now a third belligerent emerged. Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, has said that the presence of Daesh, or the Islamic State, is growing. According to him, the group plans to seize control of Central Asia and then move to Russia. The efforts to fight the Islamic State in Afghanistan are not enough to counter the threat. True, the Taliban and the Islamic State don’t join forces; to the contrary they fight each other. But it should not give rise to illusions. Many Taliban fighters join the ranks of the Islamic State. It’s hard to say how many of them have already changed sides but it’s evident that the Islamic State recruiting efforts have been a success so far. This January the Islamic State anointed a former Taliban leader, known as Hafiz Saeed Khan, as their new overload in southern Asia and the sub-continent. Saeed, who is also known as Mulla Saeed Orakzai, was appointed the leader of a new group called IS Khorasan, an offshoot of Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi’s militant group which spans Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh, as well as some parts of Central Asia. The installation of Saeed, a former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), automatically makes him one of the most powerful warlords in the Middle East. Other groups have also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, for instance: The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
Obviously the Islamic States is trying to spread instability beyond the borders of the Middle East. It targets Central Asia. An outright military intervention may not be that imminent but the incitement of internal tensions in the Central Asian states is something to expect.
Many citizens of Central Asia go to Iraq and Syria willing to join the Islamic State militants. They will come back. Islamists have already gained experience of armed struggle against the government forces in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They will apply the acquired skills to kill in their respective countries upon return. The social problems have become exacerbated in the Central Asian states. The opposition uses this factor to its advantage. The living standards are low, internal strife is in full swing with corruption and unemployment omnipresent and pervasive. According to Russian Federal Migration Service, around nine million immigrants from Central Asia worked in Russia in 2014. Now the Central Asian states themselves are going to be hit by a wave of immigrants coming from Afghanistan. There still remain circumstances in Afghanistan that could trigger a mass influx of refugees to the Central Asian countries, Mr. Bernard Doyle, UNHCR Regional Representative and Regional Coordinator for Central Asia, told in an interview with AKIpress on May 25. He did not make precise what exactly circumstances he meant. Will Central Asia cope? In 2014 the number of refugees there did not exceed three thousand but the situation has significantly worsened recently in the border areas of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. 900 ethnic Turkmen families are asking Turkmenistan for political asylum. They had to leave homes because of combat actions. Until now they haven’t got a reply. The fighting has been raging near the Turkmenistan border for a few weeks already. Militants keep on gaining ground seizing new populated areas. They have many foreigners in their ranks. The leaders of Afghan provinces complain that Kabul ignores their pleas for urgent help. The Taliban says its fighters don’t take part in the hostilities.
Some surmise that it’s all part of a complicated plot. The situation in the areas adjacent to the Turkmenistan – Afghanistan border is getting tense. Turkmenistan is moving forces closer to the border. It is building fortifications. The government has declared partial mobilization. According to General Lloyd Austin, Commander of US Central Command, Turkmenistan has asked the United States for military aid.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) completed the mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 (NATO took command of the United Nations-mandated mission in Afghanistan in August 2003). However, support for the continued development of the Afghan security forces and institutions, and wider cooperation with Afghanistan continue. The U.S. handed over responsibility for security to local Afghans in 2014, but Obama has not specified a date for the withdrawal of all American troops from the country. According to the President, the last American troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016. On March 24, Barack Obama announced that the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would be slowed and the remaining 9,800 troops would stay there through the end of 2015. The servicemen keep away from taking part in combat actions. Instead they concentrate on training and auxiliary missions. This development does not change the central issue, which is the Obama administration’s withdrawal date of December 2016 for all U.S. forces.
NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs held a session in Antalya, Turkey, on May 13-14. It was agreed that NATO will keep some troops in Afghanistan even after its current training mission ends around the end of next year in a signal of support for Afghan security forces struggling to repel a Taliban offensive. “Today we agreed that we will maintain a presence in Afghanistan even after the end of our current mission,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference during the meeting. On May 23, General Campbell said that the leaders of the United States and other NATO nations are intensifying discussions about future support for Afghanistan, probably meaning at least some American troops will remain here well after President Obama leaves office. According to him, NATO military commanders plan to establish a base in Kabul to help distribute aid, facilitate weapons sales and continue efforts to train Afghan security forces. Although Campbell stressed that NATO civilian officials probably will be in charge of the new mission, a contingent of troops also would be needed to secure the base. He added that NATO forces also could be used to help bolster the Afghan air force and intelligence service. Americans don’t plan get involved in hostilities but they intend to maintain control over Afghan authorities and military command. The have exercised the control long enough and here are the results. In some mysterious way Afghan security forces are successfully fighting back the Taliban in the south and east of the country (the Taliban is daily reported to suffer losses in the Ghazni and Gilmend provinces) but fail to gain ground against the relatively small formations of militants in the areas near the border with Central Asia.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg went to Afghanistan in November 2014. During the visit he visited the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command at Camp Morehead in Kabul, where the chief of North Atlantic Alliance praised the progress of Afghan commando units. «I have seen a highly trained, experienced and professional force,” Stoltenberg said. For over a year Afghan soldiers and police have led security operations across the country, and at the end of this year you will take full charge of security. But you will not stand alone. NATO and our partners will continue to support you.” These words give rise to a question – why the Afghan military is doing its best to avoid clashes with the armed formations of opposition in the north of the country? Neither Washington, nor Kabul offers a reasonable answer.