New information has emerged that offers glimpses into Turkmenistan’s fortifications along its border with Afghanistan. In the beginning of the year President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow convened with his security council and discussed their goals for 2018. The meeting was followed by a personal trip to a “frontier outpost.”
Since then a video clip released by dissident news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan showed Berdimuhamedow at a demonstration by border guard troops. This corroborates reports by state media portraying their leader as a hands on figurehead who is equally adept at dishing out commands as he is with extracurricular activities.
Examining the propaganda coming from Ashgabat is one of the few useful methods to ascertain the policies undertaken by Central Asia’s most peculiar state. Turkmenistan’s not-so-secret economic crisis, which is a consequence of a slump in gas exports and a debt default, is forcing the Berdimuhamedow regime to constantly advertise its military prowess at a time when it’s at peace with all its neighbors. This effort eventually reveals how Turkmenistan is arming itself against a possible external threat–terrorists from Afghanistan.
The footage gathered by Chronicles of Turkmenistan shows Berdimuhamedow driving to an outpost in an armored Ford pickup truck. Just like the theatrical counter-terrorist exercises in late 2017 the Turkmen leader watched a mock battle where a Toyota Hilux is intercepted by commandos and soldiers roped down from a helicopter.
Berdimuhamedow, who arrived in matching denim jeans and jacket, also addressed a sullen group of border guards inside a watchtower. Turkmenistan is believed to have started fortifying its border with Afghanistan after militants clashed with its troops in 2014. This incident marked a break from the past 20 years when there was little risk of a spillover as the Taliban imposed itself over the fractious country. Even the long US and NATO presence in Afghanistan posed no threat.
The Turkmen strongman was filmed checking different types of equipment provided to the border guards and the army. It appears a surveillance network, rather than physical barriers, was constructed over the barren territory between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. These structures serve as hubs for networked thermal cameras that monitor any suspicious movement in the surrounding terrain. Berdimuhamedow was even filmed gazing out of a tower with presumably bulletproof windows.
One of the occasion’s surprises was a Chinese shoulder-launched SAM labeled “QFJ-2.” What role this weapon system has protecting the border is unclear but these MANPADs were recently standardized in the Turkmen army. To advertise the state’s preparedness against terrorism, the President was shown ordnance disposal equipment, portable radios, short and long-range cameras, and several Israeli-made small arms. Whether or not these are widely distributed among Turkmen security forces can’t be verified right now.
On January 17 the state run propaganda outlet Turkmenistan Today announced Berdimuhamedow visited an airbase where military helicopters were gathered. Photos later released by Chronicles of Turkmenistan showed two new models have entered service–the Leonardo AW109 equipped with rocket pods and the Airbus AAS-72x scout helicopter. Both are expected to fly alongside the existing fleet of Mi-24’s flown by Turkmen pilots. The investment in additional rotorcraft makes sense if the military’s new doctrine emphasizes close air support in counterinsurgency missions. Besides, new fighter jets are really expensive.