Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 65

With the onset of spring weather, the governments in Central Asia–except that of Turkmenistan–fear a repetition of the 1999 Islamic insurgency which targeted Kyrgyzstan as an initial objective, with Uzbekistan as the real goal. Uzbek army and internal security troops held a combined exercise from March 12 to 15 in the Southwestern Special Military District. They then began on March 24 a set of exercises in the capital Tashkent and in the Syrdarya Region in the south of the country. The troops are testing their ability to protect and defend industrial plants, military installations and government buildings against “enemy sabotage,” and to enforce a state of emergency, capture infiltrators, liquidate “subversive groups” and “fight terrorists in crowded places without harming the population.” According to Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Kasimjon Mamedov special attention is being devoted to the “combat spirit and morale of servicemen.” While rating the troops’ motivation as high, Mamedov found fault with the performance of some unit commanders (Vatanparvar (Tashkent), March 18; Tashkent Radio, March 24).

From March 21 to 25, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev inspected military units in the Osh and Batken Regions, opposite Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Akaev watched exercises conducted by a combined force of army, internal affairs and border troops in the Chon-Alai district, a scene of last year’s incursion by Uzbek Islamists based in Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, meeting under Akaev’s chairmanship on March 25, ordered a state of “high alert” in the army. A communique of the Council anticipated an invasion by up to 5,000 Islamic guerrillas–five times last year’s number–from the south, a “flood of drugs” originating from Afghanistan and bound for third countries, the arrival of Chechen rebel instructors in Central Asia, and violent subversion by the banned Hezb-e Tahrir party, which supposedly seeks to carve out an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley at the expense of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The communique’s alarmist tone seemed inspired by worst-case prognoses and some guesswork (KyrgyzKabar, Itar-Tass, March 20, 24-25, 29; see the Monitor, January 7, February 16, March 14).

Units of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee–which has jurisdiction over the internal security troops and the border troops–conducted combat practice on March 23-24 at the NSC’s training range outside Almaty and in the Saryagash district of the South Kazakhstan Region. The Buran paratroop unit and Arystan antiterrorist unit took part in those exercises. Under the command of NSC Chairman Alnur Musaev, the troops practiced search-and-destroy operations against terrorist groups and freeing of hostages.

From March 28 to April 15, Kazakhstan is holding what it describes as “the first large-scale military exercise since 1991.” Army, air force, border troops and internal security units, variously combined, participate in the successive phases of the exercise. Billed as “strategic” and held in the south of the country, the exercise is designed to test the forces’ ability to respond jointly to cross-border incursions and to cooperate with the southern neighbors–Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan–in annihilating “extremist” and “terrorist” groups.

Kazakhstan’s military and security forces recently announced a set of reorganization measures which reflect the new concern about potential threats from the south. The Defense Ministry is about to set up the first of four planned military districts in southern Kazakhstan. The first is slated to encompass the Zhambyl, South Kazakhstan and Kyzyl-Orda Regions, along the Kazakh-Uzbek and Kazakh-Kyrgyz borders. The Internal Affairs Ministry is redefining the missions of its troops, in accordance with the country’s new military doctrine which emphasizes threats to national security from “religious extremism.” It is also in the process of relocating operational units to southern border areas and raising the combat readiness of units already stationed around Shymkent, an area wedged between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

On March 25, the border troops inaugurated their first airbase, equipped mainly with helicopters. The official communique implied that the unit is located near Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea and that it took over an army airbase which had been slated for disbandment. The newly established unit is equipped with old MI-8 helicopters, with some planes previously deemed not airworthy but which are being overhauled, and with two Ukrainian-supplied AN-72P transport planes converted for combat use and armed with missiles and bombs (Habar, Agenstvo Voyennykh Novostey, Itar-Tass, March 17, 23-25, 28).