Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov has called for an increase in the levels of foreign assistance to help the beleaguered Kyrgyz armed forces. These appeals are rooted in his conviction that the Kyrgyz economy cannot afford the type of armed forces and security structures necessary to respond adequately to the challenges of terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and the potential destabilization of the country by armed militants or insurgents. Arguably, the Kyrgyz military has benefited from rising levels of international assistance, but their structures and planning are so weak they are unable to properly capitalize on such opportunities.
On June 6, Isakov lamented the reduced size of the Kyrgyz army. “In recent years, the size of the armed forces had been reduced by 5,000 troops. Today there is a need to increase them, but so far this matter is not on the agenda,” he asserted. His appeal to increase the size of the army may be a ploy to underscore the lack of direction on these issues within the Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense. At a deeper level, Isakov is aware of the dangerously inadequate capabilities of the Kyrgyz military and this has implications for its treaty commitments with Russia and also negates state-driven efforts to reassure the public that a militant insurgency could be prevented and extinguished by existing forces. Isakov believes that conscription should be gradually replaced by contract service, although such efforts in neighboring Central Asian militaries have not always progressed smoothly. “As soon as the Kyrgyz economy makes it possible to keep a professional army, we will complete this tran sition,” he suggested (Interfax, June 7).
According to Isakov, Kyrgyzstan cannot currently fulfill the conditions of the agreement on forming the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF). “At present, the Kyrgyz army can provide the CRRF in the Central Asian region only with one battle-worthy battalion instead of two that have to be set up in line with the agreement on creating these forces,” Isakov said. The Ministry of Defense believes that one Kyrgyz battalion of around 300 servicemen is combat ready. Help to strengthen Bishkek’s CRRF commitments will be unlikely from Western donors, but the weakness in the CSTO capabilities is cause for concern among the Russian planning staffs, which are already scheduling joint military exercises this fall, including participation by the Russian servicemen at the Kant airbase near Bishkek (Itar-Tass, June 6).
Russia can help in this area, and does so by providing armored vehicles for the Kyrgyz armed forces. KamAZ, the open, joint-stock company based in Tatarstan, plans to provide more armored vehicles for the Kyrgyz army, specially modified for mountainous conditions. KamAZ is planning to open a service center in Bishkek for repairing these vehicles. Kyrgyz units have often struggled to maintain the roadworthiness of these vehicles since fake spare parts flood the local market. Sources within KamAZ believe many of the KamAZ vehicles in the current inventory of the Kyrgyz army are 15 years old or more (Akipress, June 7).
It remains unclear, however, where Isakov will find this potential increased funding. In his official statements he consistently follows a pattern of placing cooperation with Russia first and multilateral cooperation second within the CSTO and the SCO, and only then NATO’s PfP. Kyrgyzstan has multilateral military cooperation agreements with many Western countries, but none of these are indicating any plans to dramatically increase the budgeting for these programs. Equally Isakov is well aware of the need to avoid too much emphasis on Bishkek’s relations with Western militaries. Good Western ties did nothing to deflect neighboring Uzbekistan from its decision to draw back from Western entanglement.
Isakov feels more comfortable offering praise to France for its role in the Ganci base at Manas, Bishkek, and he certainly avoids any over-emphasis on relations with Washington while the negotiations are in progress towards a settlement on the future of the base. In any case, cooperation with Paris results in a few cadets and officers receiving French-language training and has expanded to include mine clearing and medicine (Kabar, June 1).
On June 8 Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev held a working meeting with Miroslav Niyazov, Security Council secretary, and Busurmankul Tabaldiyev, chairman of the National Security Service. He received reports on the nature of the events in Batken region on May 12 and considered a draft plan to enhance counter-terrorist capabilities. This plan is ambitious and far-reaching — aimed at “uncovering, preventing, and suppressing terrorist actions.” Bakiyev plans to hold interdepartmental exercises in the near future in “realistic” conditions so that the relevant units can be placed constantly on high alert (Kyrgyz TV First Channel, June 8).
Isakov has confirmed what many observers have often suggested previously, that the Kyrgyz armed forces are weak and struggle to fulfill multilateral commitments. Coming on the heels of the militant activity in Batken region, the concept of a quick fix for the Kyrgyz security agencies — one that will make their combined efforts to resist terrorist or insurgent activities effective — seems too much to expect. Bakiyev’s efforts are intended for domestic consumption to show he is doing something to promote greater security in the country. His defense leadership, meanwhile, hopes for future improvement based on a professional army that the country cannot afford.