Turkmenistan Continues Military Buildup Near Border Amid Deteriorating Afghan Security

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Turkmenistan continues to send heavy weaponry, helicopters, and other aircraft to areas along the Turkmen-Afghan border to allay security fears as Taliban fighters engage in major offensives nearby in northern Afghanistan.

RFE/RL correspondents reported from the southern district of the Mary region, which borders Afghanistan, that local officials, police, prosecutors, and military commanders have started sending their families inside the country -- adding to concerns among local residents who are not allowed to leave the area for Ashgabat, the capital, or other regions far from the border.

"Military officers and law enforcement officials have started hastily sending their wives and children out of Mary, which caused panic among local people. Many residents of the region would like to leave the area along with their children for Ashgabat or even farther, to the Balkan region. But nobody is allowed to leave the region," one of the residents of the region told RFE/RL.

According to the correspondents, caravans of military trucks have streamed from military depots in the Oguzhan district to Serhetabat for weeks, while military helicopters have been frequently circulating between Serhetabat and nearby districts.

Sources close to the military personnel told RFE/RL that fresh conscripts are being brought to the region, where they undergo expedited military courses and training.

The Turkmen government, which is tightly controlled and highly secretive, has made no announcement about increased security. Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, have increased warnings to average Turkmen against the using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which are illegal but widely used to circumvent government restrictions on the Internet.

The government also has not officially reported talks with Taliban officials held in Ashgabat on July 10.

Turkmenistan shares an 800-kilometer border with Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated sharply as Taliban fighters advance on provincial centers and even some border crossings.

Hundreds of Afghans, including soldiers, local police, and regular citizens, have reportedly fled into other neighboring Central Asia countries, including Tajikistan.

On July 5, the border guard service reported that more than 1,000 Afghan troops had crossed into Tajikistan over the previous 24 hours.

Less than a week ago, almost 350 ethnic Kyrgyz shepherds from Afghanistan with their families and some 4,000 livestock entered Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan has asked the Tajik side to secure passage for the shepherds toward the Tajik-Kyrgyz border.

However, on July 18, Tajik officials announced that they had been sent back to their village in Afghanistan after Kabul guaranteed their safety.

The United States has announced the withdrawal of all of its forces by August 31. Earlier this month, U.S. forces vacated their largest base in Afghanistan at Bagram, north of Kabul.

Amid the pullout, the Taliban has pushed into several areas and now controls about one-third of the country’s 423 districts and district centers.

The rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the Taliban battlefield successes, are stoking concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul may collapse.

Source: Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.