Human rights groups in Tajikistan have released their long-awaited study looking at last year's military operation in the eastern city of Khorog. And while the overall findings are not surprising to anyone who has followed the story closely, having a public, authoritative description of how the operation happened -- that it was not a targeted operation against criminals, but a broad attack on the town -- will make it more difficult for the government and its supporters to promote their narrative.
In particular, it will likely give additional urgency to investigations currently going on inside the U.S. government about what should be done about the train-and-equip programs that the U.S. military has been conducting with the special forces units of Tajikistan -- the forces which carried out the Khorog operation. U.S. officials have been very tight-lipped about this question; a State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the report's release. But according to several people who have been following the question, the State Department's bureaus of South and Central Asia and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor have both been very actively looking at U.S. security cooperation programs in Tajikistan in the wake of Khorog. That effort is being resisted, however, by the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe, which strongly supports the military's aid programs.
According to the latest available data, in the year ending September 2012 the U.S. spent about $3.2 million in Tajikistan on training programs under Section 1004 of the National Defense Authorization Act, under which U.S. military trains their foreign counterparts on "counter-narcotics" missions (though of course in practice the scope of the training is a lot broader: Tajikistan's activities included "Troop Leading Procedures, Weapons Safety and Handling, Basic and Advanced CQC [close quarters combat], Crew Served Weapons Employment and Maintenance, Small Unit Tactics, Sensitive Site Exploitation, Targeting the Law of Armed Conflict, [and] the Law [of] Land Warfare." The recipent of these training activities was the State Committee of National Security (GKNB), which played a leading role in the Khorog operation. (The only other country in Central Asia to get any Section 1004 activities was Kyrgyzstan, with about $2.5 million.)
Anyway, the report (available in English and Russian) was prepared by a coalition of local human rights groups, with the support of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Among its findings: the government withheld information about the operation, used disproportionate force, and failed to investigate the deaths of civilians, all in contravention of Tajikistani law.
One of the most useful parts of the report is an accounting of 16 of the people who were killed. For example, this account of the death of Jaloliddin Nizomiddinov, from his brother:
“On 24 July 2012 at 5:10 in the morning my brother went out to wash himself in the yard and was shot right in the heart. He died on the spot from a firearm wound in the heart area. It was impossible to take him to the hospital because there was shooting everywhere. It was impossible to call an ambulance as there was no communication. My brother’s corpse stayed at home a day and a half. We were unable to bury him because of the continuing fire. The authorities did not document the fact of death. We received a death certificate. I want lawyers to help us. My brother had a family—a wife and children. We are very poor, so it would be good if the government paid some compensation for the death of the breadwinner. Until now no compensation has been paid. Investigation has been in progress for half a year now, but there are no results. The city prosecutor says that an investigation continues, and that is all.”