Afghan government troops and foreign forces have gone on the offensive against Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants who are active in northern Afghanistan.
On September 12, a joint Afghan-international operation began with a raid on a compound near the village of Torbah Kash, north-east of Kunduz city. The mission was seeking "Taliban facilitators and commanders responsible for attacks on Afghan citizens and for aiding the flow of money, foreign fighters and suicide bombers into the region."
The joint force killed "a number of militants [?] armed with machine guns and rifles" and recovered weapons including "multiple rocket-propelled grenade systems" according to an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press statement. "Generally, those personnel, fighters and bombers alike, move between Afghanistan and its immediate neighbors, as well as [among] Afghan provinces."
Uzbek militants are among those believed to have used Pakistan both as a safe haven and training base. "Fighters may come from surrounding countries, as well as countries beyond Afghanistan's neighbors," Elizabeth Mathias, an ISAF public affairs officer, told EurasiaNet on September 14.
Two militants -- including one identified as Khalid Ahmadov, a former resident of Uzbekistan's Ferghana Region -- were recently captured. In a statement issued September 14, the Afghan National Security Directorate said the two detainees admitted to being in Kunduz Province on orders from Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Habibullah Khan Khattak, an administrator from Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, told the Pakistani parliament on September 12 that North and South Waziristan are havens for "not less than 5,000" Uzbek fighters.
According to Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, a Pakistani senator, many Uzbek militants use Islamabad airport as a transit point. "[I] received information from North Waziristan that the Uzbek militants land at Islamabad airport and take a taxi to reach Mirali, where they have a strong presence," the daily newspaper The News quoted Khan as saying on September 13.
Sources also told the paper that "many Uzbeks" living in Islamabad's suburbs have been arrested.
Central Asia has seen an upsurge of IMU activity in recent months. In July, three suspected IMU members were detained in Tajikistan's autonomous region of Gorno-Badakshan. The men were reportedly involved in anti-government protests in Waziristan and were ordered by Yuldashev to launch a series of attacks, local media reports said.
A shootout in Tashkent last month has also been linked to IMU militants. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In May, the Islamic Jihad Union, believed to be a splinter group of the IMU, claimed responsibility for attacks in Khanabad and Andijan.
Deirdre Tynan is a freelance journalist who specializes in Central Asian affairs.