Uzbekistan’s armed forces are intensively preparing for another summer campaign against Islamist insurgents. Since early June, Uzbek army, interior and border troops are conducting combined tactical exercises in the same mountainous area in which they fought the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) guerrillas last year. The area is situated in the Surkhandaria Region near the border with Tajikistan, from which country the IMU force had infiltrated into Uzbekistan. During last summer’s campaign, Uzbek forces evacuated the entire population of several villages from that area into the interior in order to deny the insurgents any local support or opportunities for wintering there.
The units currently exercising there are the first product of Uzbekistan’s military reform. They no longer include any conscripts, but only reenlisted servicemen on contract. These units train for anti-insurgency operations and enjoy priority access to modern equipment of American and other Western make. A newly formed joint staff of the armed forces planned and directly commands these exercises.
The scenario assumes that the IMU will again attack in mid-summer from Tajikistan over the Kuramin Ridge. The Uzbek units train to pursue, pin down and destroy guerilla detachments of up to several hundred in strength. One version has the Uzbek military allowing part of the IMU force into Uzbekistan and entrapping it there, while stopping the other part and pushing it back into Tajikistan. The exercise is due to last into July. It is being amply publicized for the stated purpose of boosting both military and civilian morale.
Official television is showcasing troops that use modern, mostly U.S.-supplied equipment, uniforms and kit. The accompanying commentary underscores the advantages of this equipment over the “previous one” of Russian make: The American night-vision devices see better and farther, the helmets are not heavy (a relief also expressed by those Kyrgyz soldiers who no longer have to wear Russian helmets), and the uniforms are “no longer easily torn.” Last year and this, the United States donated several million dollars worth of military gear and communications equipment to Uzbek forces.
Basically, however, Uzbekistan finances the phased military reform from its hard-pressed state budget. President Islam Karimov announced last month that the revised budget for 2001 allocates as much as 8 percent of the gross domestic product for the aggregate expenses of the Defense and Internal Affairs ministries, border troops and internal security agencies. The military reform aims for a downsized, mobile, professional force. This spring’s conscription has been cut by 6,000. Only a few selected units are, at this stage, undergoing modernization in accordance with the military reform program (Uzbek Television, June 3, 6, 8, 10).
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