Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 171

The military exercise CentrasBat-2000 has been in progress since September 10 at the Kazakhstani training range Kapchagai in the Almaty Region. Planned, led and–for the most part–financed by the United States in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, the ten-day exercise brings together approximately 1,000 Kazakhstani and about the same number of foreign troops. The foreign units include American, British and Turkish airborne companies, platoon-size squads from NATO partners Georgia and Azerbaijan, similar Uzbek and Kyrgyz units, and–for the first time–a company of Russia’s 201st motor-rifle division which is based in Tajikistan.

The U.S. Central Command, the zone of responsibility of which includes Central Asia, oversees this exercise. General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the opening of the exercise, which featured a joint landing by American, Turkish, and Kazakhstani paratroops. The first two phases–out of the four planned–include rehearsal of hostage release operations and joint handling of waves of refugees from a conflict zone. In that situation, the troops’ tasks include preventing the infiltration of armed rebels across the border with the refugees.

Shelton and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev, meeting in Almaty, noted that the exercise is designed to promote both region-wide security and Kazakhstan’s military reform. In a related program, the U.S. is providing US$3 million worth of border surveillance equipment, earmarked for the troops in the South Kazakhstan Region which is sandwiched between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Currently the surveillance of that border is precarious, and the area is potentially open to infiltration or escape by insurgents from those neighboring countries.

Although planned well in advance, the exercise proceeds against the backdrop of the Islamist guerrilla operations, which began in August in three Central Asian countries. The planners did, however, take into account the experience of last year’s insurgency in Kyrgyzstan.

In his official message to the participants in the exercise, Nazarbaev stated that Central Asia’s security requires joint efforts on a global as well as on a regional basis. The remark seemed to imply that reliance on Russia and on CIS collective pacts needs to be balanced by a Western connection. CentrasBat exercises are being held annually since 1997, the main participants being U.S. airborne troops and the American-sponsored joint battalion of Uzbek, Kazakh and Kyrgyz troops. This year, however, the Uzbek and Kyrgyz components of that joint battalion are for the most part tied up in anti-insurgent operations at home (Habar, AP, Reuters, U.S. Defense Department releases, September 10-14).