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Jun 20, 2016 | 13:59 GMT

Northern Afghanistan's Militancy Threat Is Rising

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Northern Afghanistan's Militancy Threat Is Rising

Volatility along Afghanistan's border with the former Soviet states of Central Asia is not new. From 1999 to 2001, the border was an active transit zone for militant groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and it played a major role in Tajikistan's civil war from 1992 to 1997. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan largely disrupted militant activity in Central Asia, forcing most militants to seek refuge in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. But militant activity in the region has resurged in recent years in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the rise of the Islamic State and its proxies.

The past few months, in particular, have brought a notable spike in militant and military activity in the region. During an attack in May, militants reportedly killed 27 Turkmen conscripts on the country's border with Afghanistan, according to Alternative News of Turkmenistan. If the report is true, this would be the largest casualty count for an attack on Turkmen border forces. Meanwhile, rocket fire from Afghanistan's northern district of Kaldar was reported near the southern Uzbek city of Termez in early May. And on June 1, Tajikistan reportedly thwarted militants who were attempting to enter the country from Afghanistan.

Reacting to the developments, the Central Asian nations have beefed up their military presence in the region and raised alert levels. Tajikistan's border service announced June 1 that it has deployed more troops along its border with Afghanistan in response to heightened threats from militant groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State, whose attacks inside Afghanistan have intensified during the spring and summer fighting seasons. Uzbekistan has also put its border forces on high alert, while Turkmenistan held its largest military exercises in recent history in March. The extent of the threat of militant spillover into Central Asia proper is unclear. So far, no major terrorist attacks in Central Asia have had a confirmed link to militant groups in Afghanistan, but Central Asian governments have an interest in playing up the Islamist militant threat as an excuse to crack down on internal dissent and opposition forces. Militant activity in northern Afghanistan does appear to be growing, however, as does the number of confrontations along the Afghan border with the Central Asian states. As a result, countries in the region could boost their security collaboration with external powers, increasing competition among them in the process.

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