Central Asia: September 28, 1999

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The situation in Central Asia reported previously by Strategy World has become more dangerous. Namangani has led a force of 700 ethnic-Uzbek guerrillas (including many foreign mercenaries with experience fighting in Afghanistan and Tajikistan) from his bases in northern Tajikistan across Kyrghizstan in bid to reach Uzbekistan's vital Ferghana Valley. Tajikistan had promised to seal its border to keep Namangani from leaving the country, but made no actual moves to do so. Kyrghizstan (which has one division and one brigade, total 12,000 troops) was embarrassed because it had no mountain-qualified troops to respond to the invasion of its territory. It sent one battalion of 600 infantry to the scene, but these were unable to make contact with Namangani's force in the rough terrain. Kirghiz Defense Minister Myrzakan Subanov was quickly fired. As the Kirghiz Air Force has only MiG-21s and L-39s (with no capability to drop bombs) it was forced to allow Uzbek Su-24s to make repeated bombing raids on its territory, most of which were relatively ineffective. The foreign ministers of all three countries (plus Kazakhstan, which offered to send a special forces/mountain brigade to the scene) met to discuss the crisis and the possible rescue of 17 hostages. The hostages include four Japanese geologists. The importance of these four is unusually high, as their fate could determine whether Japan invests billions in developing the mineral wealth of the entire region. The Kirghiz have begged the Russians to send night-vision equipment.--Stephen V Cole

 

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