3C Report: As Tajikistan Reinforces its Border, Kabul’s Airport is the Final Stand
Updated: Aug 15
Aimee Hanstein, Amira Mahmoud, Cameron Price, Vaania Kapoor Achuthan, Zaskia Torres, CENTCOM
Week of Monday, July 19, 2021
Uzbek-Afghan, Tajik-Afghan, and Pakistan-Afghan Borders as well as key border crossings captured by the Taliban and the Kabul International Airport
Geographical Area | Central Asia
Countries Affected | Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Russia, Uzbekistan
Summary: After Ankara, in agreement with the United States (US), offered to operate and secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport amid the withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban warned Turkey that it would be treated as an invader should there be an extended presence of Turkish troops in Kabul, claiming it would violate its withdrawal agreement with the US. In light of increasing security concerns in neighboring countries over the rapidly deteriorating situation in northern areas of Afghanistan, Tajikistan has mobilized 20,000 military reservists to reinforce its southern border with Afghanistan which is now largely controlled by the Taliban. Moscow also stands ready to provide Tajikistan with any assistance on both a bilateral basis and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as well as holding joint anti-terror military maneuvers, with the help of Uzbek military personnel, near the Tajik-Afghan border in anticipation of Taliban encroachment. Russian tanks stationed at the 201st military base in Tajikistan have arrived at the Harb-Maidon training ground near the border with Afghanistan ahead of the army drills next month.
Areas of High Security Concern: Violent conflicts; Terrorism; Poverty, Infrastructure, Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Current Claims: Afghanistan; Tajikistan; Turkey; Russia; Uzbekistan; the Taliban
Current Conflicts: Taliban occupy more provinces in Afghanistan and threaten to consider Turkey as an invader if they do not withdraw from protecting Kabul international airport.
Groups Involved in Conflict: The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Tajik National Army, Taliban, Russian Ground Forces, Turkish forces, Armed Forces of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Major Capital Industries: Insurgent groups, due to a lack of Afghan Government cohesion and military resources, have the upper hand amidst the growing violence between the Taliban and the Afghan forces. However, countries such as Russia, India, Pakistan, etc. are also likely to be in a position of power as it gives them the benefit of trying to exert influence in the country. An influx in potential foreign countries entering Afghanistan could likely mean an increase for weapons manufacturers across the world as countries prepare for more conflict within Afghanistan. The Civil Services industry in Afghanistan is severely disadvantaged right now as the Taliban has attacked 260 civil service industry buildings which have left 13 million Afghan civilians out of jobs.
Potential Industry Concerns: Humanitarian sector, Human Rights sector, Immigration/Refugees, Governance and Security. The current conflict in Afghanistan is likely causing a rise in internally displaced Afghan civilians as well as forcing many to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The attacks throughout Afghanistan likely cause an extreme humanitarian crisis as critical infrastructure and services are being targeted by the Taliban. The Taliban and Afghan forces both have likely violated human rights during this most recent conflict and that is likely to continue as the security situation worsens.
Areas of Caution:
The increase in conflict among the Taliban and Afghan National Security Forces, due to the withdrawal of the US, has resulted in casualties that extend beyond fighters and government forces. Since the US withdrawal agreement was signed in February of 2020, the Taliban’s brutal attacks have resulted in over 3,500 deaths, uprooted more than 200,000 Afghans, and has greatly disturbed day-to-day life among local civilians. In order to protect Afghan civilians, the US, along with neighboring Tajikistan, have indicated their plans to shelter refugees fleeing the conflict.
While fighting between the Taliban and Afghan National Security Forces has displaced thousands of Afghan citizens as they try to avoid the crossfire, an ongoing major drought is likely to worsen the current state of affairs. On June 23, 2021, the Afghan Government declared a drought was ravaging over 80% of the country. This has particularly affected individuals who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and has forced many to seek refuge elsewhere, further complicating the lives of many Afghans stuck in the middle of the conflict as well. This could increase border security issues with countries like Tajikistan as a massive influx of Afghan civilians potentially seek safety and shelter there.
Who: The Afghan forces are likely to receive support from neighboring countries like Turkey and Tajikistan. On the other hand, the Taliban is likely to be aided by re-emerging terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS). Russian tank crews are likely to help its ally, Tajikistan, build a new outpost on the Tajik-Afghan border in order to prevent the cross-border proliferation into Tajikistan by Taliban forces.
What: If Turkey decides to heed the Taliban’s warning and pull out of Afghanistan entirely, Afghan national forces will likely not be capable of operating and securing the airport themselves, allowing it to fall under Taliban control. The Taliban would likely shut down the airport, marking the end of all foreign organizations, aid groups, and embassies in Kabul, along with all military personnel providing for their security, thereby allowing the Taliban to isolate the country and empower its resurgence. On the other hand, Turkish troops who do remain in Afghanistan - who have never engaged in an armed confrontation with the Taliban under combat operations - are likely at increased risk of armed conflict with the Taliban. Remaining in Afghanistan would also likely downgrade bilateral relations between Turkey and Afghanistan. Without the help of Turkish forces, the only other option would likely be for the US military to secure the airport which would require re-deploying hundreds of additional troops in violation of its agreement with the Taliban. This would likely spur military retaliation from the Taliban forcing the US back into another forever war. Despite Tajikistan being a relatively terror-free country, the expansion of the Taliban at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border severely threatens Tajikistan’s national security. This is likely to force Tajikistan to further heighten its military power at this border, which is likely to compel them to invest more in border security and military and equipment. This, however, is likely to constrain their economic growth and is possible to have long-lasting negative consequences on their living standards. Moreover, cross-border recruitment across the Afghanistan- Tajikistan border is likely to emerge, further dampening regional security.
Why: The airport is the cornerstone of Afghanistan's stability, serving as the war-torn country’s only means to connect to the outside world and without its operation, the success of future diplomatic missions is unlikely. Because land routes into Kabul are largely controlled and/or frequently attacked by the Taliban, the Hamid Karzai International Airport likely presents the sole form of secure means of entry to the capital for thousands of American and allied diplomats, aid workers, and contractors remaining in the city. The Taliban, emboldened by the fast-tracked U.S.-NATO departure, will likely make advances to seize Kabul following the complete withdrawal. In the case of a total Taliban takeover, terrorist activity is unlikely to be contained within Afghanistan’s borders. Neighboring countries that have kept their borders open will likely experience a spillover effect of violence. For example, the United States Institute of Peace found that “While TTP’s [Terik-e-Taliban] lethality remains low, renewed attacks and the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan could potentially revitalize TTP in Pakistan and the region.” Given that a resurgence of Al Qaeda has already been observed, the revival of TTP is very likely to threaten security in the CENTCOM region. TTP is also likely to form alliances with the Taliban, which further emboldens non-state actor groups. This is also likely to serve as an inspiration for previously curtailed non-state actor groups to re-emerge.
When: Within the next six months, Kabul is likely to fall into the hands of the Taliban. The US and Turkey likely have until then to work out the details of a potential security arrangement for the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Since the Sherhan Bandar border crossing, the main border checkpoint between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, has already been captured by the Taliban, the threat is likely imminent. Moreover, many Afghan forces have now migrated to neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. After the capture of the Shehar Bardan border post, it is likely that the Taliban will now aim to capture the Hayraton border post between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, threatening Uzbekistan’s border security. While Tajikistan has permitted Afghan forces to flee into the country, the Uzbek Government has taken an opposing stance, condemning such attempts. Thus, it is also very likely to lead to heightened tensions between the two countries. It is also likely that violence between fleeting Afghan forces and Uzbek border forces will emerge.
How: The emerging threats could result in a civil war where thousands, mostly civilians, will be killed. Given that the rise of the Taliban not only threatens Afghanistan’s national security but also that of bordering countries, it is likely that many neighboring countries would be forced into the battlefield. Russia may also be dragged into military involvement if the Taliban infiltrates any of its post-soviet states. This is likely to exacerbate the already poor living standards in these countries and expand the war-front to include much of central Asia.
The Taliban is extremely likely to continue to make territorial gains across Afghanistan as the US, NATO, and other Western forces gradually withdraw from the country. The CTG CENTCOM Team recommends that Turkey, the US, and the Afghan government work in conjunction to prevent the Taliban from acquiring the last stronghold of diplomacy in Afghanistan by sharing intelligence and continuing negotiations with the Taliban. It is recommended that the US provide its ally, Turkey, with financial, logistical, and diplomatic support in order to secure the airport from the Taliban. As the Taliban continues their offensive campaign to the capital, Kabul, CTG assesses that it is very likely that the Taliban will conduct an operation to seize the airport in the event that Turkey is weakened militarily or unable to properly guard the airport. It is recommended that the Afghan government bolster security measures in Kabul and districts around the country that are still under government control. The Afghan government should also continue to work with the US and other ally forces to train their counterterrorism and security forces. AOCs such as nonprofit organizations, humanitarian/civil workers, journalists, and contractors should remain on high alert and prepare to evacuate the country if the airport is shut down. CTG is committed to Detect, Deter, and Defeat terrorism and will continue to use open-source intelligence and analysis to monitor the situation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport as well as cross-border confrontations with Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
 Amira Mahmoud via Google Maps.
 Turkey, U.S. Make Progress in Kabul Airport Talks, Prompting Taliban Threat, Wall Street Journal, July 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/turkey-u-s-make-progress-in-kabul-airport-talks-prompting-taliban-threat-11626206375
 Tajikistan Holds Massive Combat-Readiness Check Amid Rising Instability In Neighboring Afghanistan, Radio Free Europe, July 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-readiness-drill-afghanistan/31371522.html
 Tajikistan asks Russia-led bloc for help on Afghan border, Reuters, July 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/russia-says-afghan-situation-can-swiftly-worsen-pledges-help-if-needed-2021-07-07/
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 Turkey offers help securing Afghan airport, but has Erdogan bitten off more than he can chew?, France 24, July 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/asia-pacific/20210714-turkey-offers-help-securing-afghan-airport-but-has-erdogan-bitten-off-more-than-he-can-chew
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