Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Changing Face of Uzbek Militancy (Small Wars Journal)

Although Uzbek militants have been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the late 1990s, little attention has been paid to these fighters. Principally, the Islamic Movements of Uzbekistan—formed in 1998 by Toher Yuldashev and Juma Namangani—is the main organization which organizes and directs these militants. The group‟s main focus has always been ousting Uzbek President Islam Karimov in favor of installing an Islamist regime. Over the past several years however, the IMU has strengthened its ties with the likes of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, focusing not just on northern Afghanistan but internationally as well—a particularly troubling development that has managed to fly under the radar.

The IMU has maintained close ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda since the late 1990s, meeting with Taliban officials and Osama bin Laden in 1997 and later, agreeing to set up a base of operations in northern Afghanistan while Yuldashev resided in Kandahar with Taliban senior leadership in 1998. In exchange for using northern Afghanistan as a launching pad into the central Asian states, the IMU provided militants to the Taliban to battle the Northern Alliance, led by Ahmed Shah Massoud. In 2000, the group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, who noted the group‟s close association with al-Qaeda. After fighting losing battles with invading U.S. forces in the north and east in 2001, the IMU relocated to South Waziristan in Pakistan where it reconstituted, partially shifting its focus to assist a clan of Waziri tribal militants in fighting against the Pakistani government.

Unfortunately for the IMU, the rest of the Waziri tribe did not take favorably to IMU involvement in the fighting and expelled the Uzbek militants. The IMU then found an ally in Baitullah Mehsud, an influential Mehsud tribal leader who formed the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan or TTP) in December 2007. Baitullah and the TTP provided sanctuary for the IMU in exchange for their assistance resourcing the fight against Pakistani security forces—Baitullah and Yuldashev appeared to be particularly close.This sanctuary, however, was short lived. Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan throughout 2009 forced the IMU out of the region, and resulted in Yuldashev's death in August 2009. Thus began the IMU‟s migration to North Waziristan where it, once again, found new allies, including al-Qaeda.

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David Witter