Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmonov has declared his intention to raise the combat readiness of the Tajik armed forces in order to address adequately the security threats facing the country. Such familiar language, usually employed for wider political reasons, was utilized in the unusual setting of the Tajik National Guard swearing-in ceremony in Dushanbe on February 4.
“Challenges in today’s world, specifically, terrorism, extremism, the illicit drugs trade, and organized transnational crime require vigilance and combat readiness from all power-wielding and law-enforcement agencies and good knowledge of military equipment,” according to Rahmonov. The emphasis of this drive within Tajikistan’s security strategy will focus on raising standards and proficiency within the poorly trained and equipped army. “Although only two years have passed since the formation of the National Guard, one can already note its great success. Servicemen of the National Guard have shown their high professionalism in many military exercises,” explained Rahmonov (www.avesta.tj, February 4).
Concentrating on the National Guard was in many ways a carefully selected example, calculated to promote a more positive image of the Tajik security forces, which are still reeling from years of under- funding and low morale. Rahmonov was able to highlight the advances in social conditions for personnel serving in the National Guard and the fact that 45 officers have received apartments while hostels have been built for accommodating other personnel. Of course, in order to procure greater support for foreign security assistance programs, notably targeting the promotion of agencies that counter drug trafficking and enhance counter-terrorist capabilities, the Tajik authorities have to present some evidence of success; hence in the National Guard. In reality, despite the undoubted progress made by the regime towards more independent security structures, there remains an abiding reliance upon Russian know-how and the continued Russian military presence in Dushanbe.
The linchpin of Russian security strategy in Tajikistan remains the 201st Motorized Rifle Division (MRD) based in Dushanbe. Pavel Konev, an assistant to the base commander, says that the Russian troops were an important stabilizing factor during the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s, and Moscow’s reliance on the strong military presence in the country continues to influence Tajikistan’s security policies. For example, Major-General Maruf Khasanov, head of the Tajik Defense Ministry directorate for international cooperation, confirmed that almost all Tajik army officers have studied in Russian academies. Such dependence on Russian training, assistance, and military methodology seems certain to continue, as the weak Tajik state flounders economically, yet remains a key security gap on Russia’s southern periphery.
The 201st MRD is now an entirely autonomous unit incorporated into the Russian Volga-Urals Military District, consisting of three regiments, an air wing of Su-25 strike aircraft, and a helicopter squadron operating Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. Konev stated that the base personnel devote 80% of their time to field training. (NTV, February 4).
Within it the reconnaissance company of the 149th Guards Motorized Infantry Regiment, one of the most combat-capable units in the Russian army, stationed in the town of Kulob, in Tajikistan, is an important sub-unit of the 201st Russian base. “All arms of the forces are represented at this Russian military base. Motorized infantry and tank sub-units, artillery sub-units, surface-to-air missile and communications sub-units, engineers, and mine clearers. That is, all the types of sub-unit that exist in the Ground Troops of the Russian Federation armed forces,” explained Konev.
Indeed, during one recent scenario, terrorists seized a medical facility in a Tajik town. Reconnaissance troops operated with support from special hardware units; one armored carrier not only had a transmitter but radio-electronic warfare equipment as well. The reconnaissance and assault team had to neutralize the gunmen and free hostages after establishing information on enemy defense systems and identifying possible biological risks (NTV, January 31).
The company itself, with intense training demands given the mountainous nature of Tajikistan’s topography, went to Russia two months ago for training near Sverdlovsk. As part of a special-purpose brigade, the company carried out jumps from helicopters and from various aircraft, including An-12s and An-24s. The Russian military base still needs additional help. Training demands and weapons maintenance and upgrade requirement are intense. Yet, with the Ministry of Defense prioritizing mountain training for special-purpose sub-units, the 201st MRD seems more important in Tajikistan’s immediate security needs than before. However, the base itself is still without facilities for airborne assault training. So the reconnaissance troops are dependent on training on the ranges in the Volga-Urals Military District, rather than within the Tajik environment itself.
Rahmonov understands only too well how inextricably linked Tajikistan’s security structures are with Russian help and methods. His awareness of the role and potential stabilizing influence in crisis management of the Russian 201st MRD in Dushanbe can only be too profound. Having secured a more independent border security policy, he wants to widen the scope of improved social benefits for servicemen in the Tajik armed forces, and he used the address to the National Guard to offer something better than what most servicemen understand to be the norm; he will require tremendous support in this venture from those countries with an interest in regional security.