Tuesday, July 24, 2012 -
Security forces in Tajikistan said Tuesday that at least 12 soldiers have been killed and more than two dozen wounded in a massive military offensive in eastern Tajikistan against a former warlord suspected of links to the slaying of a senior official over the weekend.
"During the special operation in Badakhshan province, 12 troops were killed and 30 militants were killed," the security service said in a statement read on state television. "The special operation is continuing."
However, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported that 20 government soldiers have been killed in the operation.
Around 40 militants have been captured alive, the state television service said. Eight of those are Afghan citizens.
The operation in the remote eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan, high in the Pamir Mountains around 300 miles east of the capital Dushanbe, involves hundreds of troops supported by armored personnel vehicles and helicopter gunships.
Officials estimated that some 200 militants are involved in the fighting close to the regional capital of Khorog. Fighting has now spread to the streets, and residents are trapped in their homes as they try to escape the violence, the BBC reports.
A government source on the condition of anonymity told the Reuters news agency that the operation had ceased for the night, but had not yet been completed.
The operation is in response to the knifing death on Saturday of Abdullo Nazarov, chief of the Gorno-Badakhshan branch of Tajikistan's State Committee on National Security (GKNB).
A group of men stopped Nazarov’s car on a road near Khorog and dragged him out, then stabbed him repeatedly. Nazarov team had reportedly successfully infiltrated a tobacco smuggling gang and had begun making arrests.
The GKNB said the organized criminal group that killed Nazarov was led by former opposition warlord Tolib Ayombekov. He fervently denies the allegations, maintaining that Nazarov died after falling and hitting his head on a rock.
The GKNB statement said that Ayombekov, who is in charge of a detachment of border guards in the district of Ishkashim, is known to be running a smuggling operation involving tobacco, drugs, and precious stones in recent years.
"This murder was the last straw. The warlord, who has clean forgotten that the war ended 15 years ago, must be destroyed," Reuters reported the source as saying.
Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia, was embroiled in a costly five-year civil war pitting the secular government of Emomali Rahmon – who remains the country’s president – and Islamist opposition forces in the mid-1990s shortly after gaining independence from the Soviet Union.
The peace agreement signed between the two sides in 1997 gave positions of authority to several former warlords.