Afghanistan's problems are now clearly visible from Turkmenistan's side of their border, and despite Ashgabat's efforts to keep its neighbor's affairs from spilling over the frontier, fighting has now reached Turkmenistan's doorstep.
Afghan forces under the command of Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum reportedly chased Taliban militants from villages in the northern part of Jowzjan Province in an operation that started on October 21 and on October 23 were said to have been preparing for an assault on several dozen Taliban fighters on an island in the Amu-Darya river that divides Afghanistan from Turkmenistan.
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, interviewed officials on the Afghan side of the border to learn about the situation as of October 23.
Dostum spokesman Sultan Faizi said that some of the militants who had recently occupied villages in Jowzjan's Hamyab district that borders Turkmenistan were forced from the villages when Dostum's forces launched an assault from the south.
Faiz said that "the Taliban fled and took shelter on that island, then Vice President Dostum ordered his forces to get ready to force the Taliban to either surrender or fight." Faizi added that Dostum's forces had already taken up positions on the southern bank of the river in preparation for the assault.
"We also contacted the Turkmen side; they were told to get ready because those terrorists are not only threatening Afghanistan... they are a threat to the region," Faizi told Azatlyk. "Turkmenistan is being made fully aware of what is happening and they told us they've made necessary preparations for this."
Faizi said it was important that the "terrorists" not escape. "If Turkmenistan does not allow them [Taliban] to cross into its territory, it is a big victory."
The problem is, Dostum has a reputation for being less than gentle with enemy combatants captured by his forces, dating back to allegations of atrocities against Taliban prisoners in late 2001. As a result, the Taliban fighters on that island might be unlikely to surrender to Dostum's forces.
Faizi claimed that half of the island belongs to Turkmenistan and the other half to Afghanistan -- implying that Dostum's forces had the right to attack militants on the island without Turkmenistan's permission.
However, Turkmen authorities have patrolled the island and in recent months arrested and sometimes jailed Afghan citizens found on the island grazing their livestock after fording from the Afghan side.
While Faizi expressed certainty that Ashgabat had been informed of what Dostum was planning, he hinted that Turkmen authorities had not given any clear indication of their intentions when he said that "they [Taliban] are enemies of the entire region -- that is why we are expecting a positive response from Turkmenistan."
Jowzjan Deputy Governor Abdulrahman Mamudi agreed that Dostum's forces had chased the Taliban from the Hamyab district and that some of the militants had made their way to the island. He added that Turkmenistan had promised to help, but "at this moment the terrorists are on the Afghan side [of the island]."
Azatlyk noted that Dostum's forces routed militants from northern areas just a few weeks back but the militants returned after Dostum left the area. Mamudi responded that this time the situation would be different. Dostum, he said, had ordered him and other officials to return to Hamyab and promised to reconstruct damaged administration buildings. Mamudi said Dostum was also working with local militias, Arbaky, to ensure the Taliban could not return to Jowzjan and capture towns and villages.
Azatlyk Director Muhammad Tahir contributed to this report.
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