US Fails to Curb IMU Threat

America admits it hasn't managed to defeat Uzbek Islamists based in Afghanistan.

US Fails to Curb IMU Threat

America admits it hasn't managed to defeat Uzbek Islamists based in Afghanistan.

The US-led anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan has failed to eliminate the threat to Uzbekistan from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, Uzbek defence sources and American military leaders say.

The Uzbek authorities blame the IMU for organising several explosions in the capital, Tashkent, in February 1999 and for making numerous armed incursions into Uzbekistan from 1999 to 2001.

"In the course of the operation we were able to liquidate the main forces of the IMU, but it's still too early to count them out," said Kamiljon Jabbarov, from the Uzbek defence ministry. "A portion of the fighters survived and while there may be no direct threat from them, they can be used by another country, if not in Afghanistan."

Speaking in Tashkent this week, General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of the Central Command of the US Army, said the IMU had lost its effectiveness when its leader, Juma Namangani, was killed.

But the general warned that the threat of this terrorist group should not be underestimated. "I believe the IMU could cause tension and danger, and we'll do everything we can to stop the fighters of this movement," he said.

Franks added that remnants of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and the IMU remained on Afghan territory and that the US was working with the new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai to neutralise them. "If we find them where we think they are, we'll detain them and then further measures will follow," he said.

Independent sources believe 3,000 to 4,000 IMU members found refuge in Afghanistan under the Taleban, mostly in the strategic northern towns of Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif.

IMU fighters were among other foreign mercenaries that provided the most serious resistance to the US army and the forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostum during the battle to take Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif in the autumn of 2001.

IMU members were also among the Taleban prisoners who launched an uprising in the fortress of Qalai-Jiangi near Mazar at the end of last November. About 11 IMU men were captured in the quashing of the rebellion. They were transferred to Shibargon prison, 120 km east of Mazar-e-Sharif, and then handed over to the Uzbek authorities, according to General Jurabek, the head of the jail.

An IWPR correspondent who visited northern Afghanistan said he was informed by one of the prisoners at the jail that the IMU members had been handed over to Uzbekistan before the Red Cross could register them as prisoners of war.

The Uzbek national security council and the defence ministry would not comment.

In the meantime, the Uzbek authorities fear the IMU is far from finished. Leading political analyst Professor Faizulla Iskhakov said the anti-terrorist coalition and its Afghan allies had not even begun operations to clean up those parts of Afghan and Tajik territory where IMU bases may be located.

"The leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Taleban who remain at large can continue to give financial support to the IMU and organise the removal of those fighters that remain in Afghanistan to safer locations," Iskhakov said.

Other experts warn that widespread poverty in Uzbekistan will continue to provide the IMU with fresh recruits. Bakhodyr Musaev, an independent expert, said, "It is not deep-seated religious convictions that send the young people into the Islamic opposition but a deep sense of desperation."

The struggle against terrorism, Musaev added, must go hand in hand with the provision of more jobs, particularly for the young, as well as an increase in living standards and a reduction in inflation.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan

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