Forty Tajik soldiers were killed Sept. 19 in an ambush by suspected militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The soldiers were part of a 75-man convoy moving through the Rasht Valley, an area known as a haven for Islamists insurgents. Five officers are reported to have been among the 40 soldiers killed. No insurgents were reported killed. The soldiers were searching for members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who escaped from a prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 25. One guard was killed during the jailbreak.
The insurgents are said to be under the command of one Mullo Abdullo (Mullah Abdullah), who led Islamist forces during the Tajik civil war. In the aftermath of the war in the late 1990s, he fled the country, refusing to reconcile with the government. He is said to have sheltered in Afghanistan with the Taliban, along with an estimated 100 followers.
Abdullo is reported to have returned to Tajikistan in May 2009. In July 2009, he led 300 fighters in an attack on a police station near the eastern town of Tavil-Dara. He is now said to lead more than 300 fighters in the Rasht Valley.
In another sign of a growing insurgent threat in Tajikistan, on Sept. 3 a suicide bomber attacked a police headquarters in Khujand, the country’s second city. Two police were killed and 30 more were wounded. Within a week of the Khujand attack, Tajik border guards killed 20 militants as they attempted to cross the border from Afghanistan. The militants are thought to have been fleeing an ISAF and Afghan operation in Kunduz.
In recent weeks, the US has been hunting Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters in the northern Afghan provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar, where the group has apparently integrated its operations with the Taliban. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders have reportedly taken senior roles in the Taliban’s commander structure. On Sept. 2, the US killed an IMU leader who also served as Takhar’s deputy shadow governor. (The Long War Journal, Sept. 19)