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Central Asia: U.S. To Participate In Joint Military Exercise

Washington, 29 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- American military forces will travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan next month to train with troops from Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Baltics and Russia.

Brigadier General Martin Berndt, the U.S. Atlantic Command's director for joint exercises and training, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that a military exercise called "Centrazbat '97," will run from September 15 to 21 and take place in Shymkent, Kazakhstan and Chirchik, Uzbekistan.

Berndt says eight nations will participate in the exercise: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkey, Latvia, Georgia, and the U.S.

According to Berndt, the exercise grew out of a request from "Centrasbat," or the Central Asian Battalion, a security organization which was formed about a year ago by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Berndt says the three nations formed the organization with the purpose of training and readying themselves to participate in multi-national peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. "Centrazbat '97" will focus on activities specific to these types of international operations, says Berndt.

Officials at the U.S. Atlantic Command say the exercise will be the "longest-distance airborne operation in history."

According to Berndt, on September 14, 500 American and 40 Centrasbat troops will board planes in the southern U.S. state of North Carolina for a non-stop trip to Kazakhstan. Berndt says the planes will be refueled twice in the air during the 13,000 kilometer trip.

All of the 500 American and 40 Central Asia Battalion soldiers will parachute into Kazakhstan, says Berndt. One hour later, 40 soldiers from Turkey will jump, followed by 40 Russians.

"Over the course of about two hours, you'll have 620 people, from three different nations located throughout the world, descending on a single zone," says Berndt.

Berndt says the operation will take place in two phases. The first phase will be the parachute operation into Kazakhstan. Once on the ground, phase two starts, says Berndt, where troops from Latvia and Georgia will join the exercise.

During the ground phase of the operation, Berndt says the troops will practice such things as checkpoint control, searching vehicles, humanitarian assistance and maintaining separation zones. The exercise will gradually move into Uzbekistan where it will end.

U.S. Atlantic Command officials say America has three broad objectives for the exercise:

Promoting regional cooperation through combined military activity.

Reinforcing the sovereignty of the three Central Asian nations that make up the battalion.

Encouraging the development of capabilities by these countries to meet the standards of both recent international peacekeeping efforts and civilian-controlled professional militaries in emerging democracies.

Berndt says "Centrazbat '97" is not a NATO or a Partnership for Peace exercise. However, he says, the exercise will be conducted "in the spirit of Partnership for Peace." A total of 1,400 troops from the eight nations will participate.

When asked why the exercise would not include the two other Central Asia nations -- Turkmenistan and Tajikistan -- Berndt replied: "In terms of inviting other people, you must remember that while the U.S. is helping to coordinate this exercise, it's being hosted by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan."

Berndt says that the U.S. is not trying to send any message to the nations not involved.