Fighting broke out between government forces and the rebels after the murder of General Abdul Nazarov on Saturday. He was affiliated with the Tajikistan intelligence services. In retaliation, government forces have taken action against men responsible for the killing connected to warlord Tolib Ayombekov.
In the ensuing fight, 20 soldiers and 30 rebel fighters were reportedly killed. The fighting is considered to be the fiercest since the last military operation against militants conducted in 2010. The warlord is strong in the southeastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan, bordering Afghanistan.
The fighting is a worrying development for the West as it was relying on Tajikistan to withdraw troops and supplies from Afghanistan and serve as a buttress against the spread of Taliban influence northward from Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary-General Ander Fogh Rasmussen had announced in June a reverse transit agreement with the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, to withdraw its forces and equipment from Afghanistan by 2014. The announcement was made when negotiations between US and Pakistan over the supply lines for Afghanistan had failed to break the deadlock. Pakistan blocked the supply routes after Salala incident in November last year that killed 24 of its soldiers.
Rasmussen had commented, “These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need.”
Earlier in July, two British military delegations also visited Uzbekistan as part of the bilateral defense cooperation and to negotiate over the Northern Distribution Network.
On the other hand, Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) member countries had conducted a joint military counter-terrorism exercise in Tajikistan from June 8 to 14. The SCO’s military element is now believed to be a counterbalance to NATO, and it has also hinted on filling the void in the region after NATO withdraws in 2014.