Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 172

The CentrasBat-97 military exercise began on September 15 in Kazakhstan, with the participation of a battalion of the U.S. Army’s 82nd airborne division and the Kazakh-Kyrgyz-Uzbek joint battalion, CentrasBat. The exercise opened with the longest-distance airborne operation in military history. Six U.S. C-17 transport planes flew 12,500 kilometers (7,600 miles), 19 hours non-stop, with two mid-air refuelings, from the 82nd division’s base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Sairam airport near the city of Chimkent in Kazakhstan. The planes carried 500 U.S. and 40 CentrasBat soldiers, who parachuted jointly to secure the Kazakh airport against a hypothetical adversary. Kazakh planes escorted the incoming U.S. planes and provided air cover to the paratroopers’ landing. The 500-strong CentrasBat, for its part, advanced from a base camp to join forces with the paratroopers as they were landing at the airport.

Token units from Russia, Turkey, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, and Georgia are scheduled to join the U.S. and Kazakh-Uzbek-Kyrgyz troops in the next phases of the six-day exercise. The U.S. Atlantic Command, not NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, is organizing the exercise, although much of PfP’s experience is being used. The commander of U.S. Atlantic forces, four-star Gen. John Sheehan, was the first to jump yesterday at Sairam airport.

The exercise scenario presupposes a UN-authorized peacekeeping operation in Central Asia under NATO operational command. The goals of the exercise are defined as: testing and enhancing CentrasBat’s rapid-response capability; improving its interoperability with NATO member and partner countries; asserting U.S. support for the independence of Central Asian countries, and demonstrating that support to "neighboring countries." Sheehan stated yesterday that the exercise highlights "the U.S. interest that the Central Asian states live in stability" and the fact that "there is no nation on the face of the earth where we can’t go." (Western and Russian agencies, September 14-16)

Nuri, Opposition Leaders Arrive in Dushanbe.