User:YesItIsMe/Tajik government prepares massive assault on rebels

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

A government vehicle sits disabled on the main bridge in Khorog

The violence has steadily decreased in Tajikistan's autonomous Gorno-Badakshan province (GBAO) since hostilities broke out two weeks ago, but with the rebels finding increased support from locals and maintaining their hold on the capital city, the federal government has begun building up for a massive assault in the region.

The federal build-up has worried local residents, as the government has sealed the GBAO's borders with Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and the rest of Tajikistan, and removed all foreign obvservers, NGO workers, journalists, tourists and other international persons from the region. At the same time, all telephone services and internet access have been cut off to the province, and the rest of Tajikistan is beginning to suffer from federal internet firewalls blocking access to foreign news services.

Tajik residents in Dushanbe believe that a massive assault is inevitable, as the GBAO rebels still control the provincial capital of Khorog. Speaking unofficially, members of the Tajik Special Forces have indicated that fighting is "not going well" and that they are under orders to wait for a larger force to be amassed before trying to re-enter the territory.

While the federal government in Dushanbe has assured foreign networks that it is simply a police operation combatting a small criminal gang, the truth remains that the rebels are made up equally of smugglers, Islamists and separatists who have found a common cause in combatting the federal government's attempts to tighten its grip on power in the Eastern province.

The hostilities began when unknown assailants allegedly attacked Major-General Abdullo Nazarov's vehicle on the road between Khorog and Ishkashim, stabbing the GKNB official multiple times. The government immediately declared that the murder had been arranged by Lieutenant-Colonel Tolib Ayombekov, a former warlord who had been named an officer in the GKNB working under Nazarov himself. Ayombekov has denied any responsibility for the death, suggesting instead that his superior was likely killed following a common barroom brawl.

Predicting stong resistance due to the GBAO's position on the losing side of the 1992-1997 Civil war in Tajikistan, the federal government immediately sent more than 600 Special Forces along the M41 highway, to the mountains surrounding the city of Khorog. At dawn on the third day, July 24, the attack began with an armed foray into the city led by several BMP-1 armored vehicles; however rebels had dug in on the south side of the central bridge to meet the federal troops. Small-arms fighting ensued, and one of the armoured vehicles was destroyed by a handmade mortar round that pierced the upper shell; the federal troops set fire to the central building of an international school that seemed to be used as a base for several rebels adjacent to the central bridge. With the threat of continued armored vehicles, rebels erected road barriers on the M41 highway into the city made of torn concrete, fallen trees and large boulders, while two local drivers parked their large tractor-trailers perpendicular to the road to bolster the blockage.

Fearful of damage to the city, which has been a central source of foreign NGO work and financial donations, the federal troops withdrew from the central area and tried to engage the rebels in the mountains on the outskirts of the city. A battle tank and three more armored vehicles were sent to a Southern peak to provide support to federal troops, but were routed as hundreds of locals took to the mountains to join the rebel forces. The government responded to the unexpected size of the rebel force, the government cut water lines in the city, as well as telephone communication and internet service to the entire region in an attempt to disrupt rebel attempts to organize.

A barricade erected on the northern edge of town

As the morning wore on, fire increased from 120mm mortars and D-30 Howitzers around the outskirts of the city, as well as a BM-21 Grad missile truck positioned in the valley to the Southwest. A single Mil Mi-8 transport helicopter was used to drop a team of balaclava-clad commandos to try and secure the mountain peak directly West of the city but withdrew after taking fire from a 50 calibre machinegun. After three hours, a Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter arrived after being scrambled from Dushanbe, and attempted to lay suppressing tracer fire as three Mi-8 transports dropped two commando teams on the Western mountain and one team on the Eastern peak overlooking the city. However continued heavy weapons fire forced the Mi-24 attack helicopter to retreat from the scene.

Fighting continued at a high pace, leaving the bodies of dozens of soldiers and rebels littering the main street in Khorog. As the day wore on, the tide was clearly turning in favor of the rebels who managed to drive the federal troops Northwest. The fighting continued through the night, at a lower pace as neither side held night-vision technology, but firefights were common as troops stumbled upon each other's encampments - a 30 calibre vehicle-mounted machinegun being silenced by an explosion likely triggered by a rocket-propelled grenade.

On the second day, with rebels now controlling the provincial capital, the federal government announced a unilateral ceasefire to allow both sides to retrieve the injured and dead, and allow approximately fifty foreign tourists as well as Red Cross workers, embassy officials and other non-combatants to evacuate the area. Occasional shots were heard, as the federal government mobilized sniper teams on the Eastern mountain faces. While the rebels abided by the ceasefire, locals who ventured out of their houses to check on friends and gather supplies and drinking water were cautious to display large white flags to deter snipers. Although fighting resumed, it was at a much lower rate than previously as the government tried to avoid being pushed further North but ceased attempts to retake the city.

On the third day of fighting, it was determined that rebels, allegedly organized by Yodgor Mamadaslamov, had managed to transport hundreds of weapons across the Panj river from Afghanistan and that several Afghans of indeterminate ideology had also come across to fight the federal government. According to the Afghan government, one of its own senior officers, in charge of troops in the Shuhada District of Eastern Afghanistan, was arrested for complicity in the weapons' transport. In addition, the Tajik government had largely withdrawn its forces to nearby towns to recuperate and rein in any rebel advance, engaging the rebels only a few times chiefly to drop munitions on suspected mountain bases. However special forces were being relieved by regular army troops, and while sentiments in the Army bases outside town did not betray any fear of death, troops were clear that they were losing the battle against the rebels.

Frequent ceasefires were declared by both sides of the conflict over the coming days; and embassy vehicles eventually showed up after five days to ensure that foreign nationals were out of the area. A promised amnesty for rebels who turn over weapons to federal troops has seen limited success, with only a fraction of weapons surrendered. Since the street battles ended, the government has focused on securing a perimeter around the rebel-held territory, disrupting all communications in the region and clearing out any foreign eyes that may be privy to its next step. In the words of one Tajik officer, "we go in again soon, very big, war will be big".

This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.


Category:TajikistanCategory:Politics and conflictsCategory:AsiaCategory:MilitaryCategory:Freedom of the press