Uzbek Militants Withdraw after Pakistani Army Seizes Kaniguram

Andrew McGregor

November 6, 2009

After heated fighting, Pakistani forces in South Waziristan have captured the towns of Sararogha and Kaniguram, the latter a main center for fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant organization that has operated in the region since it was forced from its bases in Afghanistan in late 2001. Pakistani security services claim over 360 militants have been killed since the start of Operation Rah-e-Nijat, to the loss of 37 soldiers (The Nation [Islamabad], November 4).

KaniguramThe slow start to the air and ground offensive involving 30,000 troops provided the militants ample time to prepare escape routes, but continuing suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan’s major urban areas by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have provided a new sense of urgency in eliminating the terrorist threat in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest Pakistan. Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has described the elimination of the Uzbek militants as one of the three main goals of Operation Rah-e-Nijat.

Uzbek fighters and TTP militants were reported to be fighting from fortified positions and bunkers at Kaniguram as Pakistani troops struggled to take the town street by street, clearing IEDs as they went. Jet fighters, helicopter gunships and artillery were all used to hammer the militants’ positions (Daily Times [Lahore], November 3; Dawn [Karachi], November 4). The number of Uzbek fighters based at Kaniguram was estimated somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500. The town is primarily populated by members of the Pashtun Barki tribe (Nawa-i-Waqt [Rawalpindi], November 1).

While many accounts of the operation have described the Uzbeks as being “on the run” after the army’s attack on Kaniguram, Brigadier Muhammad Ihsan allowed that the Uzbeks “might have made a strategic withdrawal” (Dawn, November 4). Major General Khalid Rabbani, commander of Pakistan’s 9th Infantry Division, said Uzbek militants “gave us a very good fight” in the army’s earlier effort to take the village of Sherwangi, a known base for foreign fighters. The Uzbeks eventually made a disciplined withdrawal from the village to continue resistance elsewhere (AFP, November 1).

The IMU leader, Tahir Yuldash, is believed to have been killed in a missile strike in August, but it is unclear what changes, if any, have been made to the IMU leadership structure, particularly with IMU spokesmen denying reports of his still unconfirmed death. Locally the options for IMU fugitives are limited, as the Uzbek gunmen have developed serious differences with TTP factions beyond the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan. There are reports that the Uzbeks may be moving into North Waziristan, but this would bring them into close proximity to TTP factions that have long opposed the Uzbek presence. Crossing the border into east Afghanistan via established Taliban routes may be the best option for the surviving IMU fighters, many of whom are traveling with their families. The military operation in South Waziristan is expected to last another one to two months.

This article first appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Former Militant Describes Decline of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

Andrew McGregor

April 10, 2009

A former member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Abubakr Xoldorovich Kenjaboyev, appeared on state-owned Uzbek TV on March 30 to describe the decline of the once powerful IMU.  Kenjaboyev identifies himself as an ideological leader who joined the IMU in 2000 and later left the Waziristan-based group to form a new group opposed to the leadership of IMU co-founder Qari Tahir Yuldash.

IMUMilitants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (BBC)

As might be expected, Kenjaboyev devoted much of his interview to attacks on Yuldash (or Yuldashev), a radical preacher and sole leader of the IMU since the death of co-founder Juma Namangani in a November, 2001 U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan. Kenjaboyev alleged that Yuldash and his family enjoyed a life of wealth and comfort, unlike the harsh conditions endured by other members of the movement. The refusal of the IMU leader to adopt the three children of Juma Namangani after his death “tells everything about him.”

The former militant said his dispute with Yuldash began when he objected to the Yuldash-approved curriculum of religious instruction and weapons training used in the children’s schools of the IMU camps: “If the children are taught worldly subjects, there is the risk that they may begin realizing what is right and what is wrong. The result could be that the orders of the leaders of the Islamic movement will be defied, especially as the IMU members are decreasing in number now. The idea is that [lost members] will be easily replaced if the children are trained to be militants at madrassas.”

Since its move to Pakistan’s northwest frontier in late 2001, the IMU has steadily lost its political significance and is further away than ever from its goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia. Stranded in a strange and foreign land with little more than Islam in common with the local peoples, the IMU has been unable to conduct operations in Central Asia and has likewise failed to integrate itself into the local Taliban movement and join the jihad in Afghanistan or Pakistan in any meaningful way. Lacking purpose, some of the exiled fighters have turned to crime, including those who hire themselves out as assassins. Although they continue to find hospitality from some tribal elements in North Waziristan, the Uzbek militants have suffered steady attrition in numbers from attacks by tribal lashkar-s and government security forces.

After leaving the IMU, Kenjaboyev says he passed through Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, where he claims he was twice offered the opportunity of leading a U.S.-funded Islamic movement consisting of other former IMU fighters: “They said the U.S.A. was willing to provide every help we would need… The result they wanted was to create conflicts in certain regions… In this way, they tried to use the flag of Islam as a cover to achieve their personal interests.”

Kenjaboyev estimates that only 100 to 150 fighters are left from an original contingent of over 1,000 men. Despite Yuldash’s efforts to create a second generation of jihadis, many of the remaining fighters “are coming to realize that they were wrong.” If the decline in numbers continues, the IMU “will cease to exist by itself.”

Any interview with an IMU militant on state-controlled Uzbek TV is bound to have occurred under strict political supervision. In this sense the content may be less revealing than the decision to bring it to air. The interview may be seen as an acknowledgement by Tashkent that the IMU is no longer an immediate threat to Uzbekistan, a position that was previously maintained by authorities for political reasons.

This article first appeared in the April 10, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Ahmadzai Wazir Tribesmen Negotiate Return of Taliban Commanders

Andrew McGregor

April 9, 2008

The Afghanistan Taliban are mediating ongoing negotiations for the return of Taliban commanders and Uzbek militants to the Wana region of South Waziristan after they were forcibly expelled last year by Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen under the command of rival Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir.

Maulvi NazirMaulvi Nazir

The negotiations will likely result in the return of the expelled Taliban commanders, but while Maulvi Nazir appears to have softened his stance towards the Uzbeks, their return remains strongly opposed by Ahmadzai tribal elders despite guarantees of their “good behavior” by the Afghan Taliban (Daily Times [Lahore], April 4). The Uzbeks have turned down offers to resettle in Taliban-controlled areas of Helmand and Zabul provinces, where they could be targeted by ISAF forces (Dawn [Karachi], April 5, 2007).

The Taliban commanders seeking to return—Ghulam Jan, Maulvi Abbas, Haji Muhammad Umar, Maulvi Javed Karmazkhel and Noor Islam—were all commanders under Nek Muhammad, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2004. They were well known for harboring the Uzbek militants whose predilection for violent activities—including contract assassinations—created major rifts with the tribesmen who had initially offered them refuge after being driven out of Afghanistan in late 2001. The Utmanzai Wazirs of North Waziristan have joined the Ahmadzai in their attempts to expel the Uzbeks from the region (The News [Islamabad], April 5). The Uzbeks are hardened veteran fighters who cannot easily be eliminated by any one party. They are mostly veteran members of Tahir Yuldash’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), though rival leaders have emerged during their long exile from Uzbekistan.

As part of a peace agreement with the Pakistan government in early 2005, Maulvi Abbas, Haji Muhammad Umar and Maulvi Javed Karmazkhel were issued massive cash payments from the secret service fund to repay money they claimed al-Qaeda had advanced to finance attacks on Pakistani security forces (Dawn, February 8, 2005). Noor Islam is a Wana-based Taliban commander closely associated with Uzbek and Arab elements while Ghulam Jan is a strong opponent of Maulvi Nazir (Daily Times, January 9, 2007). Haji Muhammad Umar and Noor Islam belong to the powerful Yargulkhel sub-tribe of the Ahmadzai; Maulvi Nazir is from the much weaker Ghulamkhel sub-tribe but wields considerable influence in the area due to his skills as a fighter.

At a meeting two weeks ago between Maulvi Nazir and his local rival, Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Baitullah Mehsud, the latter told Nazir that he would not expel the Uzbek militants from the region as he had been asked to harbor them by Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani and the day-to-day commander of the Haqqani network (The News, April 5). Due to tribal animosities, the Ahmadzai and Mehsud have maintained separate Taliban commands.

 

This article first appeared in the April 9 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus