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U.S.: Central And South Asian Military Officers Attend Crisis Training

The Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan Officers from four Central and South Asian states and the U.S. Army are in the midst of a two-week training exercise aimed at improving cooperation on border security and counterterrorism efforts. The officers are participating in computer-generated models of crises and seeking how to overcome the logistical -- as well as linguistic -- challenges of mounting a multinational response in Central Asia.

Washington, 22 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- About 200 military personnel are taking part in the exercises, at a training center some 250 kilometers south of the U.S. capital, in the eastern U.S. state of Virginia.

They include representatives of the border services and Defense and Interior ministries from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. Also involved are members of the National Guard from the U.S. state of Massachusetts.

Such regional coordination is rare, and representatives from the participating states tell RFE/RL that they are finding it useful.

The head of the Kyrgyz delegation, Colonel Yuri Pogrebniak, says one challenge has been how to integrate different military cultures.

"We have two main problems. One is that we have two schools for training for officers, and we have two schools for training the armed forces. Those are the American and ex-Soviet schools. Their approaches differ greatly. The second problem is bilingualism, which is the use of English and Russian language. During the training, we are overcoming these problems to the detail. So we are making large and noteworthy progress, and we count on having positive results," Pogrebniak said.
"As we all know, it's very difficult to really make the borders nonporous. It's very difficult. Nevertheless, we are now progressing."

Russian remains a common language among Central Asian militaries.

The U.S. Army's planner for the regional cooperation exercise, Lieutenant Colonel Peg Devreaux, says she arranged for 22 Russian linguists to assist. But there are still language obstacles.

"We had not loaded Russian software onto all our computer systems, only on selected systems. So, one of the lessons learned is to increase our capability of computer systems being able to toggle back and forth between Russian and English," Devreaux said.

One scenario for the training model involved coordinating a response to a terrorist attack on a nuclear waste containment pond in Kyrgyzstan, which involved waste spilling over a large territory.

In another model, border services from different states tried to share information on suspicious people seeking to cross frontiers.

Devreaux says the participants have found that control procedures are generally similar for each state. But there is a gap, she says, between communications technology used by U.S. forces and some Central Asian states.

Pakistan, which is under U.S. pressure to stem the flow of Taliban forces into Afghanistan, would benefit from improved technology. That's according to its top official at the training exercises, Brigadier General Farhat Sabir.

"As we all know, it's very difficult to really make the borders nonporous. It's very difficult. Nevertheless, we are now progressing. We are acquiring the equipment. We are well trained. But, certainly, a lot more is still required to have really effective control over the borders," Sabir said.

Sabir calls the training exercise in Virginia a "great experience" that could harmonize regional efforts in fighting terrorism and trafficking.

The head of the Tajik team, Colonel Zarif Abidov, echoes this.

"Here, during this drill, we settled on the best ways of exchanging information between our states. This is also one of the most important components. And in case of unexpected emergencies, God forbid, such as a terrorist attack or other man-made disaster, we arranged how to provide assistance to each other," Abidov said.

The exercises are taking place at a time of intensified debate among some Central Asian leaders about the continuing presence of U.S. military bases in the region. Earlier this month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, said the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan should provide a final deadline for the use of facilities and deployment of military contingents in the region.

The U.S. Defense Department uses air bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits Kyrgyzstan next week in a visit seen as an attempt to secure support for keeping U.S. forces at the Manas air base.

The representatives of the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and Tajik forces taking part in the training exercise speak highly of cooperation with the U.S. military. Colonel Pogrebniak of Kyrgyzstan stresses the usefulness of such links.

"I'm no politician. I'm a military person and do not feel like I can make any political statement. But on my behalf, I can say the following: Our nation is very small, we are in need of peace and international accord, and we are ready to accept anyone who is willing to extend their hand for help," Pogrebniak said.

Uzbekistan chose not to participate in the exercises. Its relations with Washington have cooled following repeated U.S. calls for an independent investigation into the government crackdown in Andijon two months ago.

Turkmenistan and Russia sent observers to the exercise. Afghanistan was unable to participate because it could not provide travel documents in time to send delegates to Virginia.

There are plans to hold a similar regional training exercise in Kyrgyzstan next year.