RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service
July 11, 2021
Turkmenistan has begun moving heavy weaponry, helicopters, and other aircraft closer to its border with Afghanistan, and reservists are being put on alert in the capital, a further sign of the worry spreading across Central Asia as Taliban fighters continue major offensives.
A senior official at a Turkmen security agency told RFE/RL that more troops from an army garrison near the city of Mary are being sent to bolster border guard units. Mary is about 400 kilometers north of Serhetabad, a major border crossing with Afghanistan.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said additional forces sent to the border include officers as well as fighter jets and helicopters.
It is unclear exactly how many units are being sent to the border or the numbers of aircraft being dispatched there.
Another online news site, Turkmen.News, also reported heavy weaponry being moved to the Serhetabad region last week.
In the capital, Ashgabat, meanwhile, some reservists are being summoned to military recruiting posts and being told to stay on alert for possible quick deployment, the official said. The orders are so far not nationwide and are limited to just Ashgabat, he said.
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 using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which are illegal but widely used to circumvent government restrictions on the Internet.
In Mary, whose population is believed to be around 100,000 people, local officials have begun organizing patriotic lectures for public service employees.
Municipal service workers in the city’s Margush district were required to attend an hour-long meeting on July 8 after the end of the workday. One participant told RFE/RL that people were not happy about being forced to attend.
“The people were so tired. Everyone wanted to go home faster. It would be better if they held their lectures during working hours, not after work, or even better if they raised their salaries. We cannot feed our children with empty talk,” one worker told RFE/RL. He asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.
Another worker also complained of being forced to attend the meeting after working since 7 a.m. that morning.
“All day long, under the scorching sun, we clean the streets, plant flowers, level the ground, mow the grass. We are thrown into the hardest work. Finishing work at 7 p.m., we barely get home. And listening to these conversations and lectures is an unnecessary concern for us. After work, we barely make it home and fall asleep, not having time to eat a piece of bread with our children,” said the worker, who also asked to remain anonymous.
The worker said the lecture included rhetoric about how prosperous the country was and how people should be loyal to the government.
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 and local police, have reportedly fled into other neighboring Central Asia countries, like Tajikistan.
Tajik officials last week announced they were sending an additional 20,000 troops to its border in response to the Taliban offensive. On July 5, the border guard service reported that more than 1,000 Afghan troops had crossed into Tajikistan over the previous 24 hours.
U.S. President Joe Biden in April pledged that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would be completed by September 11. Since then, the Taliban has unleashed a quick offensive and now controls about one-third of the country’s 421 districts and district centers.
Earlier this month, U.S. forces vacated their largest base in Afghanistan at Bagram, north of Kabul.
The rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the Taliban’s battlefield successes, are stoking concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul may collapse.