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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Enemy in Tajikistan

The first official reaction from the Russian government to the July 13 destruction of the 12th Russian border post on the Tajik-Afghan border was to praise the heroism of the Russian soldiers and blame "Afghan bandits and Tajik Moslems". Awards were given to everyone who was at the 12th border post (24 were awarded posthumously) as well as to one general and several soldiers from a detachment that tried to get through to the fighting, but were unable to do so.

Six men became Heroes of the Russian Federation (four posthumously), although the results of the battle are evidence more of total incompetence than of heroism. In private conversations, the upper echelons of Russian military leaders offered a much more sober assessment of the situation.

On July 19 the commander in chief of the Russian Air Force, General Pyotr Deinikin, who had just returned from Tajikistan, said, "The border troops are good for nothing. They are living off their past successes, when they used dogs to catch deserters and smugglers. Intelligence had warned them of the possibility of attack, but they did nothing to get ready for it. They just went to sleep. The border troops are not ready to wage a modern war. Their generals are not in charge of the situation - they do not know what to do next".

The dissatisfaction of the army generals reached President Boris Yeltsin, and on July 27 he fired Colonel General Vladimir Shlyakhtin, who headed the border troops of the Security Ministry. A day later he fired Security Minister Viktor Barannikov, the president's personal friend and longtime supporter.

All Russian troops in Tajikistan, including the border troops of the Security Ministry, are now subordinate to Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. Reinforcements have been sent to Tajikistan: attack aircraft, combat helicopters, approximately 10, 000 troops, including one battalion (400 men) of Kyrgyz troops. The number of Russian troops in Tajikistan will soon reach 15, 000.

These measures can stabilize the situation for the short term, but the strategic initiative is still in the hands of the enemy. It is the enemy who chooses where and when to strike. The Russian border guards are being attacked from the front and from the rear. and the possibility of effective retaliatory action by the Russian troops is severely limited.

At the present time the Tajik Moslem opposition is being seriously supported by only one faction of the Afghan mujahedin - the Islam Party of Afghanistan under the leadership of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Afghan Moslems helped the Tajik opposition create a center of resistance in Kunduze, in the northern part of Afghanistan, where there is now a Tajik government in exile headed by the Mullahs Abdula Gafar and Said Nuri.

However, the major portion of Hekmatyar's forces are near Kabul, where they are battling the forces of another field commander - Ahmad Shah Masud, who, although a Tajik by nationality, does not support the Tajik opposition. Another powerful warlord - General Dustum, an Uzbek, who controls the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, as well as the border with Uzbekistan and part of the border with Tajikistan - is also maintaining neutrality.

But the situation could change soon - in retaliation for new attacks on Russian border posts by the Tajik Moslem opposition, the Russian military is threatening retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan. Grachev and deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kobets have already promised to punish the "bandits". Similar strikes against Afghan territory could once again unite the masses of mujahedin into a "jihad" against Russia. and the weakened Russian army is not ready for a new war.

The majority of the ground force units are simply not prepared for battle. There are few mobile reserves and they could be moved at any moment to other "hot spots" - Abkhazia, Ossetia, Ingushetia, etc. The Central Asian republics could offer no serious aid to the Russian army even if they wanted to, because their armies are in even worse state than the Russian one.

Russia cannot send more than 15, 000-20, 000 troops to the Tajik border without calling up the reserves or drafting students into the army. and Russian popular opinion will not stand for such measures, and neither will the parliament. At the same time, if the main portion of mujahedin forces and the Afghan army unite into a "jihad", they can concentrate up to 100, 000 professional soldiers on the border with the former U. S. S. R. , the majority of whom are now "unemployed" after their victory in the Afghan war.

Units from the regular army of the former communist government in Kabul also have modern fighter planes at their disposal, as well as heavy artillery. and the mujahedin, who have been fighting for 10 years in the mountains of Central Asia, are better trained and equipped than the young Russian soldiers. In such a conflict Russia will be crushed - it is much weaker than the Soviet Union was in 1985 at the height of the Afghan war. The Tajik problem can be solved only by political and diplomatic means. President Yeltsin has appointed Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev special representative in charge of settling the conflict. But Kozyrev does not have any real influence in the Kremlin. Military leaders are not any more likely to listen to him now than they were before.

President Yeltsin has said: "The Tajik border is, in effect, the Russian border". But Russia does not have the means to defend this border. and Tajikistan is not Russia, where the majority of the population support the current government. Intelligence has not yet been able to determine where the major portion of the enemy's forces lie - in Afghanistan, or in the Tajik villages they are "defending".

Pavel Felgenhauer is a political observer for Segodnya.