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Kazakh-US cooperation to repatriate citizens from former IS territories

Since 2019 the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan has collaborated with the United States and other international partners to repatriate Kazakh citizens from former IS territories in the Middle East and contrast the spread of terrorism in the country.

After the fall of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq due to international coalition’s military operations and the Russian involvement in the Syrian battleground, the Kazakh government has launched five humanitarian mission called ‘Operation Jusan’ (Bitter Wormwood) to repatriate Kazakh citizens from territories previously controlled by the Islamic State.

On February 4th, 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan proclaimed the successful conclusion of the Operation Jusan-5 which resulted in the repatriation of 12 citizens (four men, one woman, and seven children). According to the Kazakh National Security Committee (Qazaqstan Respýblıkasy Ulttyq Qaýipsizdik Komıteti),  in 2019 the Kazakh Government conducted several humanitarian missions which allowed the repatriation of around 600 Kazakhs from Syria and Iraq, including 33 IS fighters, 187 women and 490 children.

Although the number of foreign fighters among the rank of the Islamic State has never been clear, official sources have reported that around 600 Kazakh citizens fought in Iraq or Syria and sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Why this matters? Because the repatriation process promoted by the Kazakh government via official channels and TV-state has become a matter of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United States as on February 5th, 2021 the Kazakh Foreign Affair Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi underlined during the online meeting with US ambassador to Kazakhstan William Moser. Considering the geopolitical importance of Central Asia and the key role that the post-Soviet republic of Kazakhstan plays in the energy market, terrorism is a common threat that the Kazakh Government and the US Administration are fighting to keep the country safe and stable and protect US foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the local development projects and business.  Furthermore, US-Kazakh collaboration in the field of counter-terrorism is creating a fertile ground for the improvement of the bilateral relations and the affirmation of Washington’s geopolitical presence in Central Asia.