OSH, Kyrgyzstan (TCA) — Afghanistan’s Taliban and the dreaded terror organisations Daesh and Al-Qaeda have launched a third offensive against the country’s border area with Tajikistan, following two earlier attempts to take control of the strategic area on Tajikistan’s southwestern border. The geopolitical impact of the place is enormous, and the danger of it falling into enemy hands becomes more and more acute by the day – leaving distant players in the broader conflict wringing their hands – and doing pretty little.
“Hundreds of Taliban fighters have largely taken over a district in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province as intense fighting with the Afghan security forces continues,” Al Jazeera reported on July 20. “After three days of clashes, Taliban fighters took over up to 65-70 per cent of the Qala-e-Zal district, Afghan officials said on Wednesday, as a part of an intensifying wave of attacks across the country.”
The Afghan government and its military command dismissed the danger attributed to the offensive – the third of its kind in less than a year. In October last year, a similar attempt by the Taliban, also supported by Daesh forces, narrowly failed following a counter-offensive by Afghan security troops. In April this year, a second invasion followed, resulting in a temporary occupation of the town of Kunduz, the province’s administration centre. Only after weeks of heavy fighting, government troops managed to oust the invaders from their main newly conquered strongholds.
The trademark of Daesh
It is clear that in the countryside, where the Taliban maintained control over large part of the territory after the two previous rounds of fighting, they have remained pretty much at home. Today it appears that they have changed their tactics: rather than attacking government troops’ positions, they encircle them and leave them trapped to crush them from all sides in the end. This bears the trademark of Daesh, which successfully followed similar tactics in Syria and Iraq.
A strategic area
The district at stake, officially spelt Qalay-i-Zal, borders Tajikistan to its north and the Afghan province of Balkh to its west. Its occupation gives the Taliban and their allies control over the point where the river Vakhsh flows into the Amu Darya. The Vakhsh is the river where, about 300 kilometre to the north, an Italian contractor has just started the construction of the giant river dam of Rogun. The project could double Tajikistan’s power generation capacity but also drain Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan of much of their irrigation water which makes the project highly sensitive in regional politics. The Vakhsh originates from the Pobeda (“Victory”) peak located on Kyrgyz territory near the point where its borders with Tajikistan and China come together.
A danger buffer zone
The danger stretches even further than that. To the south of Kunduz, large parts of the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan are under control of Daesh, in what appears to be a fresh alliance between the “nightmare-of-the-century” and the Taliban. If the two manage to force a breech across the provinces of Takhar to the east of Kunduz and Panjshir to the latter’s south and bordering Nuristan, they will isolate the large northeastern province of Badakhstan, which includes Afghanistan’s sole entry to China, while being able to attack nearby Kabul from three sides.
The passage to China, known as the Wakhan corridor, is mainly inhabited by ethnic Kyrgyz, who live side by side with the indigenous Wakhi. On Tajik territory to its north, both Russia and India maintain large military bases equipped with assault tanks and other military equipment as well as aircraft able to carry out large-scale attacks if necessary.
Absence of US air support
Reports of “defeats” suffered by the Daesh-Taliban alliance, with their “fighters” killed by the dozen, appear almost on a daily basis in Afghanistan’s official and semi-official media. But their frequency betrays the suggestion that those “defeats” are only real in Syria but not in Afghanistan.
The apparent absence of US air support for Afghan troops fighting with their backs against the wall in the northeast fails to be explained and makes the situation very difficult for Afghan government troops.
Washington remains reluctant, despite all lip service, to engage in a massive operation to crush the Taliban and its allies once and for all. Neither Moscow nor Beijing nor New Delhi is eager to such an adventure, and the region’s three superpowers prefer to leave the game to local authorities.
Recently, the Taliban “officially” declared its intention not to infiltrate or cause any other form of trouble in “neighbouring states” pointing at Central-Asia’s ex-Soviet republics, China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang plagued by rebellious Uyghur movements, and Iran. But facts strongly suggest that the declaration is a typical example of taqiyyah – meaning to hide one’s true intentions behind misleading statements, a long tradition in the history of Islam.
To leave Central Asia in peace is definitely not on the minds of the estimated 200 Uzbek and similar numbers of Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Tajik “fighters” in the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, a branch of the Taliban loyal to Daesh and now part of the fighting force against government troops in the north of Afghanistan. Another Uzbek brigade known as the Zhuzzhani, operating under the umbrella of the Zhumbish-e-Milli Islami (National Islamic Movement), and several hundreds in number, is particularly notorious for robbing, raping and slaughtering local populations wherever they appear. Over a thousand terrorists from Central Asia are waiting to invade their countries of origin, and their numbers are increasing by the day with fellow-countrymen pouring into Afghanistan from the Near-East with similar experience and intentions. In all: the big fight has not even started while its forebodes and warning signs are clear for all to see.