Monday, January 31, 2022

Taliban Government Responds to Uzbek Taliban Revolt in Faryab Province


Afghanistan in Review January 3 – January 25, 2022

By Peter Mills

Key Takeaway: Uzbek Taliban units revolted, forcibly disarmed local Pashtun Taliban units, and briefly seized control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab Province on January 13.[1] Local Taliban leadership, including the governor and police chief, fled the city while locals reported some shots fired.[2] The revolt occurred shortly after Taliban Deputy Defense Minister Mullah Fazel Mazloom arrested a senior Uzbek Taliban commander, Makhdoom Alem, in Mazar-i-Sharif on January 12.[3] The Taliban central leadership responded quickly to the revolt in Faryab Province by deploying additional reinforcements January 14-16, which appears to have ended the revolt. Makhdoom Alem remains in custody in Kabul. If the Taliban exclude local elites from ethnic minority groups from power, it risks increasing inter-ethnic tensions in Afghanistan, and it may not have enough forces to forcibly stop every revolt.

Makhdoom Alem is the former head of the Taliban Military Commission for Faryab Province and commanded Taliban forces in Faryab, Jowzjan, and Sar-e-Pul Provinces.[4] One of Makhdoom Alem’s aides, Turkoglu, reportedly threatened the Taliban government, saying if Makhdoom Alem is not released, then his forces will “permanently lower the Taliban flag in Faryab Province.”[5] The Taliban governors of Faryab, Jowzjan, Sar-e-Pul, Samangan provinces, as well as the commander of the Taliban 209th Corps, Attaullah Omari, reportedly went to Balkh to deliberate over the revolt.[6] During this crisis, Taliban officials also reportedly arrested Qari Wakil, the senior-most Tajik Taliban military commander in Faryab Province, in Mazar-i-Sharif after he traveled there to negotiate the release of Makhdoom Alem on January 14.[7] Omari reportedly told supporters of Qari Wakil and Makhdoom Alem that the two men will remain in Taliban custody and that the people who protest this will be repressed.[8] Armed clashes between Pashtun and Uzbek Taliban units took place the following day and reportedly killed a local Taliban commander and wounded several other fighters.[9]

Shortly after the arrest of Qari Wakil, local Tajik Taliban commanders in Badghis Province—Noor Agha in Ab Kamari and Saleh Mohammad Pardel in Qadis District—reportedly both revolted and said they would no longer obey the Taliban provincial leadership.[10] The Taliban response to their actions remains unclear, but the revolt indicates the difficulties the Taliban face in trying to preserve unity while simultaneously instituting more centralized command and control. If the Taliban fail to preserve unity within the movement and these inter-ethnic tensions worsen, the combined effect could seriously undermine Taliban governance in large parts of Afghanistan over time.

The Taliban central leadership responded quickly to the revolt in Faryab Province by deploying additional reinforcements, which appears to have calmed the situation. The convoy of reinforcements arrived in Maimana city on January 14 despite Uzbek Taliban units reportedly attempting to block Taliban reinforcements from Balkh Province.[11] Taliban-state media announced on January 17 that 110 Taliban soldiers had graduated from training and joined the 1st Brigade, 209th Corps, in Maimana city. It is unclear whether these were fresh troops or if they were part of additional reinforcements sent to Maimana on January 16.[12] Those troops, reportedly from the Taliban’s “Martyrdom Units,” marched in a military parade and engaged in a show of force when they arrived, the day prior to this reported graduation.[13] ISW did not observe disturbances in Sar-e-Pul Province, but the Taliban 209th Corps deployed 2,500 troops there as well to increase security in the area.[14] This deployment may have been because Makhdoom Alem was briefly deputy governor of Sar-e-Pul Province after the fall of the Afghan government and therefore may still have supporters and fighters loyal to him in Sar-e-Pul.[15]

Makhdoom Alem’s detention may be related to internal Taliban factional politics. Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Fazl Mazloom reportedly holds a special grudge against Uzbeks due to his experience as a captive of prominent Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in 2001.[16] It is also possible that Alem’s detention is related to prior conflicts between Uzbek Taliban units under Alem’s command and Taliban fighters, possibly affiliated with the Haqqani network. In early December 2021, Taliban fighters, likely from the Haqqani-affiliated Badri 313 unit, disarmed 70 Uzbek Taliban fighters under Alem’s command on charges of collaborating with Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-KP).[17] A few days later, some Uzbek Taliban members did defect to IS-KP and engaged in clashes with Haqqani Network units and Taliban Uzbek commander Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi.[18] These prior incidents underscore that there is likely pre-existing tension between Taliban Uzbek commanders Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi and Makhdoom Alem. There is a real risk that inter-Taliban splits could contribute or directly lead to more Taliban defections to IS-KP.

Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi continues to support the government and joined Taliban deputy spokesperson Inamullah Samangani, a Tajik Taliban member, in blaming inter-ethnic tensions on democracy and corrupt supporters of the former Afghan government.[19] Inamullah Samangani claimed on January 16 that the situation in Faryab Province is stable and emphasized that the Taliban government reserves the right to investigate anyone, regardless of ethnic affiliation or background.[20]

This revolt is the most serious incident so far in an escalating pattern of intra-Taliban conflict. Although the situation in Faryab appears stable for now, tensions likely continue beneath the surface. If the Taliban excludes local elites from minority ethnic groups from power, inter-ethnic tensions within Afghanistan will escalate. Nizamuddin Qaisari, a former Uzbek Afghan warlord, threatened the Taliban on January 15 saying if Makhdoom Alem was not released then there would be a national uprising in northern Afghanistan.[21] The Taliban may find they do not have enough forces to deal with every crisis or revolt if these inter-ethnic tensions spread across northern Afghanistan. The two primary armed groups opposing the Taliban, the National Resistance Front and IS-KP, will likely try to exploit splits within the Taliban movement and inter-ethnic tensions within Afghanistan.

1. The Taliban government is refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Durand Line border with Pakistan. Local Afghan Taliban forces tore down sections of fencing put up by Pakistan along the Durand Line, which forms the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a series of border incidents starting in December. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi acknowledged these incidents on January 4 but stated this was due to “certain miscreants” and that the matter was being discussed diplomatically with the Afghan Taliban government.[22] That same day, Taliban forces allegedly prevented Pakistani forces from building a fence along the border near Khost Province, Afghanistan.[23] Taliban Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi admitted there had been recent incidents along the border, while a Taliban border commander in eastern Afghanistan, Mawlawi Sanaullah Sangin, stated explicitly that the Taliban will not allow Pakistan to put up fencing along the Durand Line. Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, denied negotiations were taking place over the Durand Line and stated on January 6 that no Afghan government had the authority to decide on this issue, as it was up to the Afghan people.[24] The following day saw an escalation in tensions when Taliban border troops arrested seven Pakistani paramilitary soldiers who were accused of crossing the border into Gomal District, Paktika Province, Afghanistan.[25] While these Pakistani paramilitary troops were released shortly afterward, the Taliban has not compromised on its rhetoric toward the Durand Line. On January 10, Mawlawi Sangin reiterated the need to prevent the border from being fenced, this time at a ceremony with Taliban 201st Corps commander Abdul Sabour Abu Dojana.[26] On January 14, Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Sardar Ahmad Khan Shakib echoed Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Stanekzai’s prior comments, stressing that the Durand Line issue is a national issue that can only be solved by the Afghan nation, not by the Taliban government alone.[27]

The escalating Pakistani Taliban campaign inside Pakistan will likely push the Pakistani military to continue cross-border operations into Afghanistan, where the Pakistani Taliban maintains havens. The Taliban’s ability to prevent Pakistan from fencing the Durand Line is limited. However, this rhetoric and continuing cross-border operations by Pakistan indicate these border tensions may become worse over time.

2. The National Resistance Front stated that it is actively preparing to launch an offensive at the end of winter against the Taliban government. Head of Foreign Relations for the National Resistance Front (NRF) Ali Nazary stated on January 10 and 20 that the NRF is gathering supplies and preparing for a spring offensive that will take place once the snows melt.[28] NRF militants have recently been spotted with newer weapons, possibly Russian-made PG-7VR’s and SVDS DMRs, which could indicate external support.[29] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly denied that these weapons had come from Russia.[30] There were also reports that Uzbek Afghan warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, told his commanders that he will launch a spring offensive against the Taliban.[31] It is unclear what capabilities Dostum can deploy inside Afghanistan and to what extent he will work with the NRF. The NRF engaged in skirmishes with the Taliban in Kapisa Province on January 16, Panjshir Province on January 18, and Balkh Province on January 21.[32] There are reports of ongoing battles between the NRF and the Taliban in Khost wa Fereng District, Baghlan Province.[33] These battles resulted in mostly minor casualties, but they indicate that the NRF maintains the ability to carry out insurgent attacks and that they may be expanding this capability to other parts of Afghanistan.

3. The Taliban government is seeking to build diplomatic and trade ties with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistani Deputy Foreign Minister Wafa Hajiyev met separately with the Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai and Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi to discuss bilateral relations and cooperating on economic projects including the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI).[34] Shortly after these meetings, the Haqqani-run Taliban Ministry of Interior Affairs announced the creation of a special unit of 3,000 soldiers to provide security for TAPI projects in Afghanistan.[35] Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met with Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Rashid Muradov in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, to further discuss TAPI projects on January 16.[36] They also reportedly discussed plans to build railways to Aqina and Torghundi, both border crossings into Afghanistan. The Taliban claim construction on these projects will start in March 2023.[37] This is likely overly optimistic and it is still unclear who will pay for these projects. Nevertheless, these meetings indicate that Turkmenistan plans to expand relations with the Taliban government.

4. The Taliban is actively working to maintain its air force and is seeking the return of former-Afghan Air Force aircraft from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Latifullah Hakimi, director of the commission that controls airports, stated that the Taliban Air Force has 41 working aircraft and 81 aircraft total as of January 5.[38] It is unclear how the Taliban Air Force will continue to maintain its aircraft; according to former Afghan National Army Lieutenant General Yassin Zia, the former Afghan Air Force was spending more than $12 million per day on maintenance and most Taliban aircraft will likely cease working within 6 months.[39] Up to two Taliban helicopters crashed during rescue operations responding to serious flooding in Kandahar and Helmand on January 4.[40] Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Yaqub underscored the importance of the Taliban Air Force to the Taliban government during a speech on January 11 when he threatened to take action against Tajikistan and Uzbekistan if they did not return former Afghan Air Force aircraft currently being held by those countries.[41]

5. The Taliban Clearing of Ranks Commission is slowly expanding its operations but faces violent pushback. The Taliban Commission for the Clearing of Ranks began operations in Badakhshan Province on January 5.[42] Armed clashes took place the following day between groups of Taliban fighters loyal to Safauddin, the local head of criminal investigations, and Salahuddin, the police chief for Maimay District, Badakhshan Province. This clash reportedly occurred because the Clearing of Ranks Commission wanted to remove the local Taliban intelligence official for disobeying orders.[43] The clash left two Taliban fighters and a civilian dead with several more Taliban fighters and civilians injured. Latifullah Hakimi, the head of the Clearing of Ranks Commission said the commission has removed more than 2,840 Taliban members from the Taliban’s ranks across 14 provinces as of January 16.[44] Those fighters were removed due to links to IS-KP, involvement in drug smuggling, and violating people’s privacy. Hakimi’s statement indicates that the commission is not yet operating across all of Afghanistan and is likely being slowly rolled out across the country. It is also a rare acknowledgment from the Taliban that some of its fighters are defecting to IS-KP.

6. Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi appears to be taking the lead on economic policy within the Taliban government. Hanafi chaired meetings of the Economic Commission on January 6 and January 17. The meeting on January 6 included Taliban Minister of Commerce Nooruddin Azizi and discussed oil, gas, and food imports; increasing trade ties with Iran; and cooperating on a project by Uzbekistan to build a railway from Termez, Uzbekistan, to Torkham on the border with Pakistan.[45] The meeting on January 17reportedly focused on increasing electricity in Kandahar Province and responding to significant bankruptcies among Afghan banks.[46] Deputy Prime Minister Hanafi also gave a prominent speech on January 19 at a major Taliban economic conference. During this speech, Hanafi blamed the country’s problems on sanctions and said the Taliban would never sacrifice the independence of Afghanistan’s economy to satisfy donor conditions.[47]

7. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led a delegation to Iran and met with Afghan warlord-in-exile Ismail Khan on January 9. Inamullah Samangani, a Taliban deputy spokesperson, claimed Ahmad Massoud was present for the talks and that the Taliban offered him safe passage to return home to Afghanistan.[48] Other journalists reported that the National Resistance Front (NRF) denied Massoud was present at the talks. However, these same accounts confirmed that Ismail Khan and other NRF leaders met with Muttaqi.[49] The Taliban reportedly tried to convince Massoud and the NRF to give up their rebellion and return home to Afghanistan. Sibghatullah Ahmadi, the spokesperson for the NRF, said the Haqqani Network is opposed to any talks with the NRF.[50] Taliban Minister of Commerce Nooruddin Azizi, an ethnic Tajik who is originally from the Panjshir Valley, was also present. He was likely attempting to demonstrate that Panjshiris will be represented within the Taliban government and can live in Afghanistan without being persecuted. During this visit, Muttaqi also appointed Qayyum Soleimani, reportedly Ismail Khan’s nephew, as head of the Afghanistan embassy in Iran.[51] It is unclear whether Iran has formally accepted Soleimani as the new ambassador to Iran. However, Soleimani did comment on the talks with the NRF and said they were proceeding smoothly.[52]

8. The Taliban Ministry of Defense is becoming increasingly involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid and food. The Taliban Ministry of Agriculture announced on January 12 that the Ministry of Defense will distribute 21,559 tons of wheat to various unnamed provinces across Afghanistan.[53] The Taliban commander of the National Transport and Mobility Brigade, Mawlawi Bismillah, later stated on January 17 that his unit had distributed wheat to two provinces and planned to deliver wheat to more provinces in the near future.[54] The following day Taliban officials from the 203rd Mansoori Corps distributed food items to poor families in Paktia Province.[55] These events indicate that international aid organizations may need to work with the Taliban military in order to distribute humanitarian relief in the future.

9. IS-KP continues to carry out regular attacks targeting the Taliban government and Shi’a civilians, predominantly in Kabul. IS-KP carried out at least eight attacks in Kabul, mostly targeting Taliban soldiers, though at least one targeted a bus carrying Shi’a civilians. IS-KP also attacked local Taliban officials in several districts in Nangarhar and Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. In Kunar Province, likely IS-KP militants attacked the home of a local Taliban intelligence commander in Sawkay District on January 16. On January 19, likely IS-KP militants attacked and killed a local Taliban commander in neighboring Narang district.[56] The January 16 and 19 events came after a failed likely IS-KP assassination attempt on the Taliban district governor for Shegal District on January 14.[57] In Nangarhar Province on January 11, likely IS-KP militants killed the Taliban intelligence chief for Batikot District. On January 25, IS-KP claimed IED attacks targeting the local Taliban district governor and his bodyguards in neighboring Kama District.[58] These attacks on rural local Taliban leadership will likely undermine Taliban governance and open up more support and operational areas for IS-KP.






[4] https://www(dot)etilaatroz(dot)com/134757/faryab-residents-protest-arrest-of-talibans-senior-commander/


[6] https://8am(dot)af/eyewitnesses-in-faryab-pashtun-taliban-disarmed-in-maimana/





[11] Video shows a company sized formation of Taliban fighters in a convoy consisting of at least; 5 MRAPs, 6-7 pickup trucks, and 7 armored humvees.



[14] https://www(dot)tolonews(dot)com/afghanistan-176347

[15] https://www(dot)etilaatroz(dot)com/134757/faryab-residents-protest-arrest-of-talibans-senior-commander/







[22] https://www(dot)dawn(dot)com/news/1667422/pak-afghan-border-fencing-issue-to-be-resolved-diplomatically-says-qureshi%20(0)


[24] https://www(dot)khaama(dot)com/it-is-time-for-world-to-recognize-taliban-deputy-fm-786876/


[26] https://www(dot)tolonews(dot)com/afghanistan-176248

[27] https://www(dot)tolonews(dot)com/afghanistan-176291

[28] https://zetaluiss(dot)it/2022/01/07/panjshir-afghanistan-riconquista-talebani/






[33] https://www(dot)independentpersian(dot)com/node/210406/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%DB%8C/%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87%C2%A0%D8%AC%D8%A8%D9%87%D9%87-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%85%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%84%DB%8C-%DA%86%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8-%DA%A9%D8%B4%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%B4%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%AF





[38] https://www(dot)tolonews(dot)com/index.php/afghanistan-176177





[43] https://8am(dot)af/eng/clashes-among-taliban-members-leave-three-dead-and-four-wounded/?fbclid=IwAR32Mn1Ewfhs5xKM4RtXQFeMBEIR-T0hhKXai2VOZRZeaomC_kgDMa6Mw2I

[44] https://www(dot)khaama(dot)com/nearly-3000-taliban-affiliates-dismissed-so-far-officials-346346/










[54] https://mod(dot)gov(dot)af/ps/node/4562








Thursday, January 27, 2022

Putin’s Likely Course of Action in Ukraine: Updated Course of Action Assessment


By Frederick W. Kagan, Mason Clark, George Barros, and Kateryna Stepanenko

Executive Summary:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the crisis he created by mobilizing a large military force around Ukraine to achieve two major objectives: first, advancing and possibly completing his efforts to regain effective control of Ukraine itself, and second, fragmenting and neutralizing the NATO alliance. Russian military preparations can support a massive invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and south that could give Putin physical control of Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, allowing him to dictate terms that would accomplish the first objective. Such an invasion, however, might undermine his efforts to achieve the second objective because it could rally the NATO alliance around the need to respond to such a dramatic act of aggression. An invasion would also entail significant risks and definite high costs. A Russian military action centered around limited military operations in southern and southeastern Ukraine coupled with a brief but widespread and intense air and missile campaign could better position Putin to achieve both aims as well as reduce the likely costs and risks to Russia.

We therefore currently forecast that:

  • Russia will not conduct a full mechanized invasion to conquer all of Ukraine this winter (unchanged).
  • Russian mechanized forces will overtly deploy into occupied Donbas on a large scale by mid-February (increased likelihood).
  • Russia may launch an air and missile campaign throughout unoccupied Ukraine in conjunction with an overt deployment into occupied Donbas (newly identified course of action).
  • Russia may conduct limited ground incursions north and west from occupied Donbas and/or north from Crimea.

Our previous forecast that Russia would deploy mechanized forces to Belarus in early 2022 (which we first made in December 2020 and last updated in December 2021) has transpired.[1]

We have identified a new course of action since our previous examination of Russian options that Putin is preparing and may pursue in conjunction with an overt move into occupied Donbas: an air and missile campaign, possibly extensive, throughout unoccupied Ukraine. We have observed indicators that he is preparing this option. We assess that such an air campaign in unoccupied Ukraine is significantly more likely than an invasion intended to seize large areas of unoccupied Ukraine, including Kyiv and other major cities. Putin could initiate the air and missile campaign and/or limited ground incursions in southeastern and southern Ukraine before Russian forces have completed deployments to and preparations along the northern Ukrainian frontier and in Belarus. We are not yet ready as of January 27, 2022, to forecast that Putin will actually order the air and missile campaign in conjunction with the move into Donbas, but policymakers must be aware of the conditions the Kremlin is setting for that contingency—separate from preparations for a major ground offensive.

A Russian air and missile campaign that targets both occupied and unoccupied Ukraine could pose an even greater short-term challenge to the US and NATO than an invasion to occupy most of Ukraine in the same way that a live hostage situation creates more tension and complexity while in progress than a completed murder. Once Russian mechanized forces have seized Ukraine’s capital and major cities, Putin’s effective leverage on the West drops substantially, as he will have exercised the near-complete extent of his ability to damage Ukraine and left little for the West to try to deter by action or prevent by appeasement.

A partial attack that retains the visible capability to go further, however, increases the pressure on the West to meet some of Putin’s demands to dissuade him from further violence. Holding back from the conquest of Kyiv and major Ukrainian cities allows Putin to continue to demand concessions from the West that transcend Ukrainian issues, such as blanket commitments not to expand NATO further. Russia’s military conquest of Ukraine would seem to make such commitments irrelevant and reduce pressure on the West to make them.

An air and missile campaign that leaves the Ukrainian state nominally independent with a beleaguered and fearful government and people, however, allows Putin to protract the crisis. He can continue his efforts to maximize the tension and friction among Ukraine, the United States, and America’s European allies (especially the Germans, given their extreme vulnerability to Russia’s energy pressure) by using the threats of continuing air attacks, the economic devastation of Ukraine and Europe, or, finally, the invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

An air and missile campaign against unoccupied Ukraine would pose less cost and risk to Russia compared with an invasion and occupation of territory, although an air and missile campaign would incur more cost and risk than simply moving forces overtly into occupied Donbas without attacking beyond the current line of contact. The United States and NATO should prioritize developing a coherent response to this course of action in addition to their other efforts to deter and set conditions to respond to Russian threats.

The objectives of such a Russian air and missile campaign could include:

  • Expanding wedges in the Western alliance;
  • Increasing pressure on the West to make larger concessions regarding NATO expansion in general and the disposition of NATO forces in eastern Europe;
  • Forcing Ukraine to make further concessions to Russian demands regarding occupied Donbas;
  • Coercing Ukraine into accepting a new version of the Minsk Accords or an entirely different agreement making even more concessions that undermine Ukrainian sovereignty;
  • Forcing Ukraine to amend its constitution to rule out NATO membership;
  • Disrupting the Ukrainian government;
  • Creating a governance and stability crisis in Ukraine by forcing concessions that infuriate Ukrainian patriots;
  • Crippling the Ukrainian economy; and
  • Severely degrading the Ukrainian military to set conditions for further demands or Russian military activities if Putin is not able to secure his objectives through this more limited campaign.

An air and missile campaign would be far more likely to achieve these objectives than simply moving Russian forces overtly into occupied Donbas. It would also be more likely to achieve these aims at a cost acceptable to Putin than a mechanized drive along the northern Azov Sea coast would alone.

If the Kremlin can protract the crisis on its terms, it can raise the costs to the United States and NATO. The United States and NATO must prioritize preventing Putin from protracting the crisis by rapidly increasing the risks to his forces and the cost to the Russian economy as soon as he initiates the conflict either by moving forces overtly into occupied Donbas or by attacking unoccupied Ukraine.

The United States and NATO could best deter or disrupt such an attack by deploying and using ground- and sea-based air- and missile- defense systems and stealth fighters to shoot down Russian manned aircraft attacking targets in unoccupied Ukraine. The purpose of such Western military operations would be to impose high-enough costs on Russia to persuade Putin to avoid or terminate the operation.

Overt Russian deployments into Donbas with or without a Russian air campaign in unoccupied Ukraine should trigger the full array of US and European punitive sanctions on Russia. The United States and its allies should also define a threshold at which continued covert Russian deployments into occupied Donbas would trigger a response. But the Russian course of action considered in this essay, including the air and missile campaign, puts tremendous pressure on the US relationship with its reluctant partners, especially Germany, if it does not involve significant Russian forces invading unoccupied Ukraine. The United States and its more-committed allies must prepare now for this challenging contingency.

European responses to US attempts to rally the alliance to deter Putin thus far suggest that a more limited Russian attack is more likely to weaken and fragment NATO than the military conquest of most of Ukraine. A full Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine including Kyiv and/or other major urban centers collapses the West’s decision-space and is the likeliest Russian course of action to trigger a strong, coherent set of Western reactions. Russian military aggression short of a full-scale invasion, even including an extensive air campaign, however, gives Putin the initiative and creates uncertainty about how Putin will ultimately resolve the crisis. Putin has used this approach to great effect in Syria and elsewhere. It opens room for much debate and disagreement about responses among the United States, its European allies, and Ukraine. Continuing Russian economic pressure on Europe, especially Germany, amidst such a crisis may seriously erode alliance cohesion.

The United States and its other NATO partners must nevertheless accept the risk of serious strain and even damage to the US-German and NATO-German relationship to respond decisively to this more-limited form of Russian aggression. Allowing Putin to coerce major concessions from Ukraine or the West through limited aggression poses a greater danger to the NATO alliance’s cohesion, credibility, and even survival than does antagonizing Germany and other recalcitrant NATO members by imposing tough economic penalties on Russia that hurt those allies economically. Repairing strains with Germany and other allies, especially those caused by bad decisions the German government has already made, is a more manageable problem in the long run.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Turkey in Review: December 28, 2021 – January 18, 2022

Kazakhstan Crisis Exposes Limits of Turkey’s Reach in Central Asia

By Ezgi Yazici

December 28, 2021 – January 18, 2022

Rapid developments in Kazakhstan in January 2022 outpaced the Turkey-led Organization of Turkic States’ ability to respond with more than offers of support to the Kazakh government. Ankara’s initial response to the Kazakh crisis was limited to calling for stability and peace.[1] Turkey accelerated its outreach to Kazakhstan, however, after the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) agreed to deploy troops into the Central Asian country. The CSTO deployment, the first time the organization invoked its collective security provision, likely motivated Ankara to take more vigorous steps to ensure Turkey retains a role in Kazakhstan.[2] Kazakhstan remains under a state of emergency imposed in response to widespread unrest that began with localized fuel protests.

On January 6, more than two days after protests spread across Kazakhstan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to offer “any assistance if needed”—a symbolic offer as CSTO troops had already arrived in Kazakhstan.[3] Kazakhstan is a member of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS, previously the Turkic Council). Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spent January 6 on calls with other OTS member states, including Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and OTS observer state Turkmenistan, discussing the situation in Kazakhstan.[4] The OTS issued a statement on January 6 and held an extraordinary session on January 11.[5] Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are the only OTS members who are also part of the CSTO.

Turkey and other OTS member states likely approached the developments in Kazakhstan with caution before January 6 to avoid alienating a major regional partner in the event the protests succeeded in pushing out President Tokayev. However, the Russian-led CSTO’s support and increasing violence on the ground solidified Tokayev’s position enough for Turkey to spearhead an OTS response in support of the president.

Turkey’s outreach to Central Asia has origins in shared Turkic language and culture, but Ankara seeks to build a deeper cooperation network. Ankara’s political outreach to Central Asia dates to the 1990s, where its shared linguistic and ethnic heritage with the Turkic population served as a common denominator to encourage cultural, political, and economic networks between Turkey and the region. At the time, a Turkey-led network offered the relatively young Central Asian states an opportunity to diversify their diplomacy and trade beyond Russia. Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was the first to propose the creation of the OTS and has traditionally been the most influential pro-Turkey and Turkic-affiliated voice in Kazakhstan. Countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan draw large Turkish investments and aid to this day. They also export valuable goods like oil to Turkey and serve as lucrative markets for Turkish businesses.[6] The Turkish government seeks to upgrade these ties to an institutionalized and cohesive political network through which Turkey can expand its influence in Central Asia.

The unrest in Kazakhstan poses an important opportunity and test for Turkey’s efforts to make the Organization of Turkic States an effective intergovernmental organization. The political turmoil in an OTS member state and the CSTO’s rapid response presents a chance for the OTS to serve as a legitimate political mechanism that successfully supports its stated goal of attaining “regional peace, stability, and prosperity.” Alternatively, an anemic, late, or ineffective response from the OTS would paint the organization as toothless, especially juxtaposed against the CSTO’s quick military response. The CSTO deployment displayed Russia’s reach and efficacy as a political and military actor in Central Asia, which some Central Asian states may seek to counterbalance or dilute. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan—the two CSTO members within the OTS—may seek to diversify their partnerships beyond Russia. Kyrgyzstan's initial hesitancy to send servicemen for the CSTO mission and the short time Kazakhstan was willing to host CSTO troops suggests that neither government desires an extended Russian-led military intervention, even if the intervention was critical for Kazakh President Tokayev to remain in power.[7] OTS members outside the CSTO—Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and observer-state Turkmenistan—may also seek new political and economic ties with regional partners to build alternatives to Russian power structures in Central Asia.

Russia’s swift military and political play in Kazakhstan demonstrates the limits of Turkey’s power. Turkey’s goals in Central Asia are misaligned with its capabilities in that region. Turkey has occasionally been able to balance or compete with Russia, but only under the right circumstances. For example, in Syria, Azerbaijan, and Libya, Turkey was able to leverage its competitive advantages to shape external conflicts in competition or cooperation with Russia. Turkey lacks such advantages in Central Asia. The Kremlin’s swift action in Kazakhstan was a stark reminder to Turkey of Russia’s greater capacity and willingness to take significant political and military actions for its partners. Russia was able to pass a CSTO decision and deploy troops to successfully protect Tokayev’s position within hours. In contrast, Turkey’s offer for “support” was late and mostly symbolic to a country with Russian troops already on the ground.[8] Moreover, the waning influence of former Kazakh President Nazarbayev over Kazakh politics may further disrupt Turkish-Kazakh ties. The Turkish government also likely does not possess the decades-old institutional knowledge, personnel expertise, or political networks for Central Asia that it has for Europe, the United States, or the Middle East.

Turkey’s outreach into Central Asia will likely aim to maneuver within Russia’s superior and entrenched sphere of influence. The OTS’ ability to eventually coordinate and issue a joint response about Kazakhstan sets a new precedent in solidifying the network’s focus on state diplomacy beyond language and culture commonalities. Moreover, it offers a precedent for Turkey’s intent to be a stakeholder in the region's politics, despite its limitations. In the near term, Turkey will likely prioritize economic and energy outreach to the region as it strengthens the foundations of its political and security networks. Turkey can lay the groundwork for a greater footprint in the region by prioritizing strengthened diplomatic channels, joint personnel training programs, counter-terrorism cooperation, and defense sales to OTS member states.

  1. China hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu on January 12 in a week that featured several Middle Eastern visits to Beijing. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, China, on January 12 to discuss bilateral relations and economic cooperation opportunities between Turkey and China.[9] The Chinese Foreign Ministry readout said that Cavusoglu and Yi discussed Belt and Road Initiative routes to Europe, cooperation in energy, technology, big data. Yi also called for Turkey to support China’s security interests and non-interference in its domestic affairs and restated China’s commitment to its 2019 currency swap agreement with Turkey.[10] Turkey likely seeks to further economic cooperation with China to stabilize its struggling economy and may be willing to offer political concessions in return.  The foreign ministers of several Middle East countries visited China the same week as Cavusoglu. China hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on January 14 and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council secretary-general, between January 10-14.[11]
  2. Likely Iranian proxy militants attacked a Turkish military base in Ninewa Province, Iraq, on January 2, 15, and 16. The attacks mark a significant uptick compared to 2021, when five similar attacks occurred over the entire year. Unidentified militants fired up to 13 122mm rockets from a truck in Abu Jarboua near Bashiqa, Ninewa Province, Iraq, at the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) base on January 26.[12] The militants fired two or three rockets at the same base on January 15 and three or four on January 16.[13] On January 15, Iranian proxy-affiliated Telegram channels reported that the TSK shelled an unspecified location near where it claimed the attack originated.[14] The increasing frequency of attacks could be retaliation for perceived Turkish interference in Iraqi Sunni coalition building and Iraq’s government formation process to the detriment of Iranian interests. Turkey’s increasing activities in the Caucasus and attempt to improve ties with Israel could also be triggers for the recent uptick in attacks. Iran’s proxies are likely expanding their narrative of “resisting the occupation” to include the TSK as well as the US military presence in Iraq. The Turkish Defense Ministry has not commented on likely Iranian proxy attacks against TSK forces in Iraq since the first attack in April 2021, which killed one TSK soldier. 
  3. Turkish and Armenian envoys held their first meeting in Moscow on January 14 amid Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes. Turkey and Armenia’s appointed envoys for the Turkish-Armenian normalization process met for the first time in Moscow, Russia, on January 14.[15] Turkish envoy Serdar Kilic and Armenian envoy Ruben Rubinyan exchanged “preliminary views” and agreed to continue the negotiations.[16] The parties did not settle on the location or date of the second meeting, indicating outstanding disagreements. The normalization process aims to establish diplomatic ties and open the long-shut Turkish-Armenian border. Armenia seeks economic relief by gaining access to trade and energy routes that excluded the country as its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey have remained closed since its independence. Turkey seeks greater economic and diplomatic access into the Caucasus where it can position itself as a crucial trade lifeline for landlocked Armenia. Separately, the Russian mediation role indicates that the Kremlin seeks to insert itself into the normalization process to ensure regional stability efforts continue under Kremlin-preferred terms and to elbow out any formal US and European mediation role. However, ongoing clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces will likely set the pace of and possibly jeopardize the Turkish-Armenian talks.[17]
  4. Unidentified militants conducted three IED attacks in Turkish-controlled Syria on January 13, marking the first IED attacks since November. Unidentified militants detonated three improvised explosive devices (IED) in Azaz, al-Bab, and Afrin in Aleppo Governorate, Syria on January 13. Militants detonated a car bomb in Azaz, killing a military police officer.[18] Another militant detonated what was likely a suicide vest (SVEST) near a vehicle in a marketplace in al-Bab a few hours later.[19] Local sources reported another IED attack near a Turkish-backed military base in Afrin that occurred simultaneously with the al-Bab attack.[20] Syria Civil Defense (commonly called the White Helmets) stated that the al-Bab and Afrin attacks killed two people and injured three. The Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Governor of Hatay Province in southern Turkey issued statements condemning the attacks. [21] Separately, unknown militants detonated an IED at Faylaq al-Sham headquarters in Jinderes village, southwest of Afrin, in Aleppo, Syria on January 15.[22] The IED attack killed two Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fighters from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army. No group claimed the attacks, but, the local pro-Turkish and the Syrian opposition sources attribute them to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). On January 8, likely YPG militants killed three Turkish Armed Forces soldiers with an IED in Akcakale, Turkey, near Tal Abyad, Raqqa Governorate, Syria.[23] On January 11, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced that Turkey was conducting retaliatory strikes against the YPG; those strikes may have motivated the YPG to target Turkish-controlled northern Syria.[24]
  5. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the Israeli President may visit Turkey for the first time since 2007. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on January 18 that Israeli President Isaac Herzog may visit Turkey “soon.”[25] Herzog would be the first Israeli president to visit Turkey since Simon Perez’s visit in 2007. Erdogan held phone calls with President Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on November 18 after Turkey released an Israeli couple who had been arrested on espionage charges; both the release and the calls indicate Turkey’s willingness to improve ties with Israel.[26] Erdogan also called President Herzog to offer condolences for Herzog’s mother’s passing on January 13.[27] Ankara’s outreach to Israel comes at a time of wider normalization efforts by Ankara toward Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, and others. Ankara likely seeks to improve its standing in the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean and mend ties with key regional players after its isolation in 2020.
  6. Al Shabaab targeted the Turkish military base in Mogadishu, Somalia on January 18, killing Turkish-trained Somali soldiers. An al Shabaab militant detonated a suicide vest targeting off-duty Somali soldiers near a Turkish military training camp in Wadajir District, Mogadishu, Somalia. The explosion killed at least four people and injured ten others. Al Shabaab, al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, regularly targets Turkish and Turkish-linked targets in Somalia. The group conducted a similar attack targeting the Turkish base in Somalia in July 2021. The Turkish Armed Forces base in Mogadishu is part of TSK’s capacity-building missions to train partner forces abroad. The TSK has trained Somali security forces in its Mogadishu base since 2017, as part of a close Turkish partnership with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) that also includes humanitarian missions, economic ties, and educational exchanges. Turkish-trained forces are active in counter-al Shabaab operations. Al Shabaab seeks to remove the Turkish presence from Somalia and has focused on Turkey in its propaganda, including accusing Turkey of exploiting Muslims by participating in NATO.[28]
  7. December satellite imagery confirms Turkish armed drone sales to the Ethiopian Government. December 9, 2021 satellite imagery released in January 2022 confirms the presence of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 armed drones at the Harar Meda military airport in Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[29] Diplomatic sources previously claimed Turkey negotiated the sales of its armed drones to Ethiopia on October 14.[30] The Turkish government did not confirm the sale despite a stark rise reported in Turkish defense and aviation exports to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government uses armed drones for airstrikes in its Tigray region, including against civilians.[31] The possible use of Turkish drones may draw domestic and international criticism of Ankara’s opaque process for defense exports and arms sales. The sale could also challenge Turkey’s attempts to normalize ties with Egypt, as Ankara seeks to mend ties with its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors.[32] Egyptian security sources told Reuters that Egypt asked the US and European nations to “help it freeze any deal [between Turkey and Ethiopia]” and that Turkey would need to discuss the drone sales in ongoing normalization talks between Cairo and Ankara.[33]


 Contributors: Ezgi Yazici and Fatih Cungurlu




[2] The CSTO declined Kyrgzystan’s request for its domestic unrest in 2010. Armenia also requested CSTO consultations during Azerbaijan’s offensive into Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Although, Armenia did not formally invoke.

https://www.vedomosti dot ru/politics/articles/2010/06/15/mirotvorcy-odkb-ne-budut-napravleny-v-kirgiziyu

https://www.interfax dot ru/world/768966


[4] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held one-on-one phone calls with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev about the developments in Kazakhstan on January 6. Erdogan did not talk with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov despite Turkmenistan observer state status in the Organization. Cavusoglu also had a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and the Caucasus.



[7] Kyrgyzstan’s presidential spokesperson said that “Kyrgyz servicemen will not be involved in any actions with the participants in the actions in the Republic of Kazakhstan” on January 6.xxxvii Kyrgyzstan refrained from participating in the initial January 6 CSTO vote to send peacekeepers to Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Parliament only voted to do so on January 7

https://ria dot ru/20220106/kirgiziya-1766723008.html; 

https://eurasianet dot org/kyrgyzstan-sends-troops-to-kazakhstan-but-not-everybody-is-happy 

Kazakh Presidential Press Secretary Berik Uali said that CSTO peacekeeping forces will remain in Kazakhstan for no more than a week on January 9.

[8] China made a similar security assistance offer





[13] “In the Second Attack of its Kind a Missile Attacks Targets the Zlikan Base,” Shafaq, January 15, 2022. shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%80%D9%86/%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AB%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B9%D9%87-%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%81-%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AE%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%B2%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%83%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%AF; “At least 3 missiles targeted the Turkish Zlikan base in Bashiqa, Mosul Governorate,” Sabereen News Telegram, January 15, 2022. t dot me/sabreenS1/39133 

 “A Missile Attack Targets the Turkish Zlikan Base in Northeast Mosul for the Second Time in 24 Hours,” Al-Hadath, January 16, 2022.; “A Second Burst of 4 Missiles Target the Turkish Base Responding to the Artillery of the Turkish Occupation,” Sabereen News Telegram, January 16, 2022. t dot me/sabreenS1/39135

[14] “A Second Burst of 4 Missiles Target the Turkish Base Responding to the Artillery of the Turkish Occupation,” Sabereen News Telegram, January 16, 2022. t dot me/sabreenS1/39135 



[17] Most recently, Azerbaijan claimed Armenian forces attacked Azerbaijani positions near Kalbajar on January 8. Armenia claimed Azerbaijani forces attacked Armenian positions in Armenia on January 11.











[28] RUMINT on Somalia’s purchase of Bayraktar TB2 drones




[32] Ethiopia is at odds with Egypt and Sudan due to the former’s hydropower dam construction on the Nile. Egypt and Sudan are concerned that the dam’s construction will affect their downstream access to the river’s waters.