Turkmenistan’s president has reshuffled the country’s top security officials in a major change of personnel that suggests creeping anxiety over unrest on the border with Afghanistan.
State media on October 6 reported that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov named the head of his praetorian guard and close confidante, Guichgeldy Hojaberdiev, to head up the National Security Ministry, the successor agency to the KGB.
Hojaberdiev takes over from Yaylym Berdiyev, who had occupied his post since 2011 and has now been appointed Defense Minister, replacing Begench Gundogdiyev.
Gundogdiyev will in turn take over as commander of Turkmenistan’s naval forces.
Berdymukhamedov announced the personnel changes during a session of the state national security council, portions of which were shown on television.
Taking on their new roles, all the officials read out a vow of loyalty to the president and kissed the national flag as they kneeled.
At the meeting, Berdymukhamedov expressed his satisfaction with the work carried out by the National Security Ministry, which he said was responsible for upholding the foundations of the constitutional order. The president said that it was important to strengthen state security to ensure future prosperity.
The word was then given to the head of the state border service, Murad Islamov, who reported on his agency’s efforts to protect the country’s frontier so far this year. State media offered no specifics other than to cite Islamov as saying that the border service is “thoroughly upholding the key principles of Turkmenistan defensive military doctrine.”
Turkmenistan’s military ethos founded on the principle of neutrality and rejection of membership in any military alliances. But unconfirmed reports earlier this year suggested that Turkmenistan had indeed turned to military assistance from Russia and Uzbekistan to bolster its border with Afghanistan.
The Taliban has made substantial strides in northern provinces of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan, which has apparently caused distress in Ashgabat.
Berdymukhamedov told the national security council meeting that the government stood ready at all times to modernize the border service’s equipment. For all that, Turkmenistan appears to continue having to rely on outside help to keep its frontier secure.
Addressing the new appointees, Berdymukhamedov, who is officially the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Turkmenistan’s armed forces, said a key priority going ahead was reforming the military, namely by upgrading its hardware and training highly qualified personnel.
The foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan reported on October 4 that reports coming out of Afghanistan have spooked defense officials.
Citing its own claimed sources in the border service, the website said that up to 70 percent of the armed forces’ combat-ready military equipment has been stationed along the Afghan border.
Battalion tactical groups equipped with artillery, anti-aircraft weapons have been redeployed to the south of the Mary and Lebap provinces, both of which border Afghanistan, Alternative News of Turkmenistan claimed in its report.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan said in its October 4 article that a second consignment of tanks had been delivered to the Mary province in the space of a few days.
Although the Taliban’s most significant recent advances have been been registered in provinces neighboring Tajikistan, there are also concerns the insurgency could take on a fresh impetus in Afghanistan’s provinces of Faryab, Jawzjan, Badghis and Herat, the website argued.
Those anxieties appear to be well-grounded and Faryab has in fact seen fighting in recent days between Taliban and Afghan security forces.
TOLOnews cited Faryab’s acting governor, Abdul Satar Barez, as saying that hundreds of Taliban militants on October 4 attacked the provincial capital, Maymana, in a bid to take over the city. Barez said the assault was successfully repelled and that Maymana has returned to normal.
But Faryab’s troubles are clearly longer term and involve not only Afghans.
In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, Daud Khattak, a senior editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Pakistan Service, carried reports of hundreds of Uzbek militants training in Faryab.
“Locals say the militants in Faryab are not engaged in fighting and do not carry out regular attacks on Afghan security forces or governmental installations,” Khattak reported. “They are mostly focused on training, showing their intentions for a future major battle.”