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Central Asia: Multi-national Military Exercises Begin

Siram, Kazakhstan; 15 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of U.S. paratroopers completed the longest airborne mission in history today by jumping into Kazakhstan to take part in a big multi-national military exercise.

The over 500 paratroopers flew 12,000 kilometers non-stop from the U.S. to jump over a southern Kazakh training area. Some 40 members of the newly-formed Central Asian Battalion, a unit made up of troops from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, also parachuted in.

Russia, Georgia, Turkey and Latvia also are participating in the exercises, involving some 1,400 soldiers altogether. Our Kazakh correspondent says the exercises aim to promote regional military cooperation and training for multi-national peacekeeping activities.

The start of the exercises, which moves to Uzbekistan on Thursday, were watched by dignitaries, including the Kazakh, Uzbek and Krygyz defence ministers, and U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Elizabeth Jones.

Colonel Alexey Riskin, of the Kazakh army, cited separatist unrest in some former Soviet republics as a good reason for having a Central Asian joint military force.