Tajikistan held the largest military exercise in its history on Thursday, drilling its entire 100,000-strong army plus 130,000 reservists as instability grows in its southern neighbor Afghanistan.
Tajikistan deployed 20,000 of those reserves to reinforce the Afghan border.
According to Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon, thousands of fighting vehicles, artillery pieces, mortars, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft were involved in the drill. He specifically mentioned the deterioration of Afghanistan as the reason for holding the exercise.
“Due to the unstable situation in the region I once again remind the people of Tajikistan that we must be ready to protect the peace and stability that have been achieved at a high price,” said Rakhmon.
Thursday’s drill was separate from the joint exercises Tajikistan is planning to hold with the Russian military in early August. Russia has a major military base in Tajikistan, dating back to before the fall of the Soviet Union, with deals in place to keep Russian forces in the country until at least 2042. Tajikistan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet states.
The joint exercises scheduled for August 5-10 will also involve Uzbekistan. Russian military officials said the focus of the training will be repelling “illegal armed formations that intervene into the territory of an ally country.”
Rakhmon’s government requested assistance from Moscow with securing the Afghan border in early July. Tajik officials are worried about Afghan government soldiers fleeing across the border into their territory, the Taliban’s increasing control of provinces along the border, and the possibility of a refugee wave fleeing into their country if the Taliban manages to topple the government in Kabul.
Russia said on Tuesday that it will “reinforce” its Tajikistan base and “significantly boost the combat capacity” of its troops with 17 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles.
Russian tanks have reportedly moved closer to the Afghan border in preparation for the August joint exercise, or perhaps in preparation for whatever happens next in Afghanistan. Russian military helicopters from the Tajikistan base already conducted air-to-ground missile firing drills two weeks ago.