Special Section: Terrorist Attacks on America
U.S. Military Cooperation with the Central Asian States
Kenley Butler, Research Associate
The United States has been developing military ties and conducting military exercises with the states of Central Asia since 1996. This cooperation may pave the way for U.S. access to bases in Central Asia, and may even lead to direct support and involvement from some Central Asian militaries.
Since the Soviet republics of Central Asia emerged as independent nations in the early 1990s, the United States has sought to gain a foothold in the region through diplomatic means and by providing assistance. Although most U.S. assistance to the region has been in the form of humanitarian and reform aid, the United States has also provided security assistance in the form of training and equipment.
The United States has signed defense-related cooperative memorandums and agreements with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which provide for talks on defense doctrine, training, and defense industry conversion. In its first sizeable transfer of military equipment to a Central Asian state, the United States provided 16 military transport vehicles to the Uzbek military in February 2000. In addition, the United States has provided coast guard vessels to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Since October 1999, the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) has taken the lead on U.S. military activities in Central Asia. USCENTCOM plans to continue U.S. military cooperation in Central Asia through the U.S. Joint Forces Command and continued participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programs.[1,2] All of the Central Asian states except Tajikistan are signatories to the PfP framework document.
Joint Training Exercises
Centrazbat: The Central Asian Battalion (Centrazbat) was formed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan in December 1995 as a peacekeeping unit to provide peace and stability in Central Asia. Centrazbat has held multinational exercises in Central Asia to learn other nations' tactics in hopes of becoming a full-fledged participant in UN peacekeeping operations.
Soldiers from the United States, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan participated in the first set of exercises held in September 1997 in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Five hundred members of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division participated in the exercises, which began with a parachute drop from U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft. After the jump, soldiers conducted training exercises in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that included checkpoint control, vehicle inspections, riot control, mine field clearing, and humanitarian operations. The United States provided eight C-17 aircraft, six humvees, and other military equipment for the exercises.
In September 1998, 160 U.S. soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division joined soldiers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan in Centrazbat '98, held in Chirchik, Uzbekistan and Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Soldiers practiced manning UN checkpoints, searching personnel and vehicles, conducting patrols, and dealing with angry mobs demanding food. NATO paid the $5 million in expenses for the training exercises.
Centrazbat 2000 was held near Almaty, Kazakhstan, where personnel from the U.S. 82nd Airborne and the 5th Special Forces Group joined participants from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. In previous years, Centrazbat involved a combined battalion-sized exercise. Beginning in 2000, at the request of the Centrazbat countries, the size of the exercise was increased so that each country could have its own peacekeeping battalion. According to General Anthony Zinni, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command, the change allows countries that might decide to participate in peacekeeping operations, such as UN operations, to have a full capability to contribute. In 2000, four battalions came under the control of a combined brigade, which engaged in refugee control, checkpoint outposts, patrolling, and security operations.
The United States is willing to assist with training for the Centrazbat because it will enhance regional stability and increase interoperability among NATO and PfP nations. Of Centrazbat exercises, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, Atlantic Command's Director of Exercises and Joint Training, said that the goal is to prepare in advance, "so that if we are ever called to do a mission like this, we're not meeting people for the first time."
Some in Central Asia view U.S. involvement in Centrazbat exercises as sending a message to Islamic extremists and others in Afghanistan and Iran against fostering regional instability. According to a 2001 Congressional Research Service report, the future of Centrazbat is uncertain, however, because of internal disagreements among its three members.
Other NATO-led Exercises: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have also participated in two major peacekeeping training exercises under NATO's PfP program—Cooperative Nugget and Cooperative Osprey.
In August 1995 and June - July 1997, Cooperative Nugget exercises were conducted at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan participated in the 1995 exercises. Kazakhstan joined its neighbors in 1997. Cooperative Nugget used scenario-driven exercises for land forces and focused on peacekeeping tactics, including work with refugees.[10,11] In March and May of 2000, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan participated in Cooperative Nugget exercises that took place in Germany and Colorado.
The aim of past Cooperative Osprey operations was to improve the interoperability of participating nations and to train military personnel in peace support operations. In August 1996, the United States, the Netherlands, and Canada joined with 16 PfP nations, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan in training exercises in North Carolina. Exercises included amphibious operations in a coastal area, and tactics and procedures. Six NATO nations, including the United States, joined 13 PfP nations, including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in training exercises held in March 2001 in Nova Scotia.[13,14]
 Jim Nichol, "Central Asia's New States: Political Developments and Implications
for U.S. Interests," Congressional Research Service, May 18, 2001,