Shooting on Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border sparks fears of wider conflict
A Tajik soldier has reportedly been killed in shooting on the disputed border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Shootouts have become increasingly frequent amid stalled talks on agreeing the frontier but reliable media reports are limited in the authoritarian states.
Fighting between the ex-Soviet backwaters along a disputed river valley last year left at least 55 dead, more than 250 injured and at least 40,000 residents displaced. Tensions reignited again in January and March this year.
Tajikistan’s authorities refused to comment but police in the Tajik border city of Isfara were quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti agency saying Kyrgyz border guards opened fire “without reason” last Tuesday. It said three people were also injured.
The Tajik Asia-Plus website reported a Tajik soldier’s death, based on a claim from the Tajik enclave of Vorukh in the complex border region.
Kyrgyzstan claimed Tajik troops opened fire on a Kyrgyz outpost and claimed Tajik troops were firing mortars.
A Kyrgyz statement said the two border services were holding talks.
More than a third of the 1,000km Soviet-era border remains disputed.
Kyrgyzstan last year gained an edge over Tajikistan in the border dispute when it bought three Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial combat drones armed with precision missiles that have been successfully deployed in Ethiopia, Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan and now Ukraine.
The Kyrgyz authorities told the public the new drones would help fend off Tajikistan’s incursions.
But months later Turkey agreed to sell Bayraktar TB2s to Tajikistan, removing Kyrgyzstan’s advantage and sparking an angry response from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
“They answered that it was just business,” the deputy foreign minister Jeenbek Kulubaev told Kyrgyz parliamentarians in April.
Turkey’s sales of identical drones to both impoverished central Asian states has been seen as profiting from two poorer countries’ dispute.
The Bayraktar is equipped with artificial intelligence capabilities that allow it to taxi, take off, cruise, land and park autonomously. In September 2020 the drones shot to international prominence when they were deployed against Armenia’s Russian-made armour in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Turkish drones were credited with largely wiping out Armenia’s military capability during a startlingly one-sided 44-day war which ended a three-decade stalemate.
The low-flying drone has a tiny silhouette allowing it to avoid radar detection while it can fire extremely accurate four laser-guided missiles.
The Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border has never been properly demarcated. Picture credit: Pikist