Kyrgyzstan hosted joint command and staff exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) May 29-31. “Issyk Kul Anti-Terror-2007” included elements from the regional anti-terror structure, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States anti-terror center, alongside security agencies and special services from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Those with observer status in the SCO — Pakistan, Iran, India, and Mongolia — also monitored the exercise. The heads of the Special Services in attendance emphasized the potential role of anti-terrorist exercises in combating terrorism and strengthening the cooperative security dimension within the region.
Clearly, in view of their host status, as well as the Kyrgyz commitment to the SCO’s security success, officials were keen to promote positively the implications of Issyk Kul Anti-Terror-2007. Murat Sutalinov, chairman of the Kyrgyz National Security Committee, noted the significance of the SCO exercises: “It is conducted in order to step up cooperation among the security services of the SCO member states in fighting against terrorism, conducting joint operations, and exchanging information.” (Kyrgyz Television 1, May 29). Russian security officials reportedly commented on the strategic interests of countries beyond the region, while noting the potential for joint hostage release operations within the SCO framework.
On May 30 the second stage of the exercise was held at the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry’s Edelveys training ground, near the town of Balykchy in northeastern Issyk Kul Region. Kyrgyz participation involved the “Scorpion” subunit, drawn from the third motorized-rifle brigade of the Kyrgyz Emergencies Ministry’s eastern regional department. The exercise demonstrated the advances made by the Kyrgyz security forces in mountainous warfare operations.
They rehearsed attacking and destroying militant formations resembling the groups and tactics of the Batken incursions in 1999 and 2000. One critical distinction, however, related to the capacity to carry out joint and well-planned operations, which was evidently lacking in the Kyrgyz experience of responding to militant incursions. The focus of this stage of the exercise was to coordinate a joint response aimed at encircling and destroying the enemy. Although there have been previous examples of SCO anti-terrorist exercises, participants were keen to improve the potential for cooperation and coordination in conducting such multinational operations, should they prove necessary in future. Naturally, this involves establishing effective ways of coordinating communication between law enforcement and other security agencies.
A third stage was carried out near the Ortotokoy reservoir and concentrated on the release of hostages. This also allowed specialists to carry out bomb disposal practice and to safely manage the presence of civilians in the area. The rehearsal was a satisfying success for the SCO officials, who noted that the Special Forces freed ten simulated hostages, disarmed a militant group, detained terrorist suspects, and carried out these actions in a professional and timely manner (Kabar, May 30).
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev used the 15th anniversary of the Kyrgyz armed forces to discuss the nature of military reform. A key element in this process, according to Bakiyev will be the education of the Kyrgyz armed forces in order to develop armed forces capable of reacting rapidly to a wide range of threats to state security. “I think that educational work should be improved in the army to further develop and strengthen the armed forces and to instill into every serviceman the sense of high responsibility for the country’s fate. It is very important to instill high moral and spiritual qualities and the feeling of patriotism into the younger generation, and to help them develop their active position in life,” remarked Bakiyev.
Structural reform would also be needed to achieve highly mobile armed forces, although he did not define the nature of these changes. Bakiyev also highlighted the equipment factor, in as much as his forces require modern gear, but he has not explained how the defense budget will cope with such expenditure. “Modern teaching methods, which are recognized to ensure a high level of individual and group training and intellectual development of servicemen, should be actively implemented,” Bakiyev added.
Much of his statement on military reform contained rhetoric without setting out the nature of a reform program or how the state will fund an ambitious military reform. However, he specified the parameters for achieving successful military reform as being rooted in Kyrgyzstan’s involvement in the CSTO and the SCO; cooperation with these partner states will be the priority of his approach to reform. He used the occasion of the anniversary speech to highlight the historic shortcomings of the Kyrgyz army, especially in dealing with past incursions, “The [Batken] events of 1999 and 2000 showed that our army was not ready to repulse a group of terrorists and we must learn a lesson from this,” he said (Akipress/Kabar, May 29).
Bishkek’s plans for military reform may center on upgrading the higher readiness formations, which participate in CSTO and SCO exercises, or could be called on in future to respond to militant incursions or respond to terrorist incidents. And with the August 2007 SCO summit in Bishkek approaching, Bishkek wants to be seen as having strong SCO credentials.