On September 21-23, for the first time since 1991, Uzbekistan hosted a joint military exercise with Russian troops on its territory. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov ordered the holding of the exercise in their capacity as commanders-in-chief, and Defense Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Kadyr Ghulamov watched the event at the Farish training range in Jizzak region in southern Uzbekistan. Each side committed some 200 elite troops to the exercise: Russia, a reinforced airborne company and a GRU Spetsnaz unit; and Uzbekistan, two companies of special mountain troops.
Held in a desert environment and hilly terrain, the exercise rehearsed an operation by a Russian-Uzbek combat group to destroy a 100-strong terrorist detachment that had infiltrated Uzbekistan from the south. The hypothetical detachment was affiliated with an Islamist organization aiming to create a universal Caliphate and seeking to seize a foothold in Uzbekistan’s Surkhamdaryia district as a first step toward that goal. During the first phase of the operation, the joint combat group liquidated a 30-strong advance unit of the terrorists and wrested a mountain village from their control. In the second phase, the joint combat group cut off the path of retreat of the main terrorist detachment, encircled, and destroyed it. In the process, the joint combat group also practiced seizing a terrorist-held building, freeing hostages, spotting a drug-carrying convoy, and closing off its route.
Putin and Karimov held a telephone conversation on September 24 to register satisfaction with the troops’ performance and the level of their cooperation in the exercise. Ivanov met in Tashkent with Karimov and National Security Service Chairman Rustam Inoyatov to assess the joint exercise and consider an expansion of training for joint military and security operations. The next military exercise (at a date to be set) should involve the use of state-of-the art weapons and equipment, Ivanov told the press, holding out the prospect of Uzbek access to modern Russian items.
The Russian minister clearly implied that Uzbekistan need not join the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and its Rapid Deployment Forces. Uzbekistan’s “cooperation with Russia on a bilateral basis suits us absolutely,” he reassured the host country. Ivanov and Ghulamov also signed an agreement on measures to ensure the safety of flights between Russia and Uzbekistan.
Ivanov endorsed Karimov’s decision in early August to demand the closure of the U.S. base at Karshi-Khanabad within 180 days: “It can clearly be understood as a sovereign state’s decision; nothing more and nothing less than that.” During Ivanov’s Tashkent visit, the governmental Rossiiskaya gazeta wrote gleefully about the demand that “the Yankees should leave” Uzbekistan, as “there are no longer any serious grounds for the Yanks’ presence at this strategic airfield. Where might they go? Apparently even the Pentagon does not know.”
Insisting that Russia and Uzbekistan face the same types of threats and challenges, Ivanov pointed to Afghanistan’s booming drug production. Although this is a standard Ivanov swipe at the United States and NATO, it does reflect a threat perception widely shared in Central Asia. Russia exploits this issue politically to cast doubt on the U.S. role as a security provider in the region. In a related development, Tajikistan made public on September 23 an unprecedented request to Russia for more equipment and more instructors to assist Tajik border troops in stemming the drug trafficking from Afghanistan. That same day, President Imomali Rakhmonov, in a public statement, ruled out the possibility of hosting U.S. troops in Tajikistan.
(Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 21; Interfax, Itar-Tass, September 21-23; Uzbek Television, September 23; see EDM, September 23)