The Pentagon has issued a pre-solicitation notice for a counter-terrorism training compound near Osh worth between $5 million and $10 million.
The facility in southern Kyrgyzstan would be just a fraction of the size, both physically and financially, of a planned Special Operations complex, along with aviation facilities, in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan’s main population center. Experts say the projects are key elements in a strategic plan to check an expected upsurge in violence in northern Afghanistan and Central Asia.
US-funded border checkpoints and training centers across Central Asia, in connection with established bases in Afghanistan, will form a network of “intelligence points,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the editor of The Long War Journal website, told EurasiaNet.org.
In Afghanistan, the US Department of Defense is looking for “design and construction of multiple facilities in support of specialized task force missions at Mazar-i-Sharif,” according to a pre-solicitation released on the Federal Business Opportunities website on June 30. Among the envisioned facilities are three helicopter maintenance hangars, an aviation maintenance facility, a mission planning facility, aircraft apron for six rotor and two fixed wing aircraft, and taxiways.
A separate July 12 pre-solicitation seeks expressions of interest from companies capable of building in Mazar-i-Sharif a “strategic airlift apron” for C-5 transport planes, as well as a helicopter apron with “taxiways and shoulders for rotary-winged aircraft.” Both these Afghan projects are projected to cost between $25 million and $100 million. In addition, the Special Operations complex, to be built just 56-kilometers from the Uzbek-Afghan border, could also cost upwards of $100 million.
The military infrastructure investments aim to counter a growing threat to northern Afghanistan, Roggio said. He went on to suggest that the Taliban was just one source of instability; there are signs that Iran is also intent on making mischief, carrying out some sort of forward-defense strategy designed to relieve growing international pressure on Tehran connected with the ongoing controversy over its nuclear program. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
“We have an increasing Taliban problem in northern Afghanistan, in Balkh and Kunduz,” he said. “But you also have a lot of problems with Iran’s Quds Force in western and north-western Afghanistan. They funnel al Qaeda fighters from Iran and get them into Afghanistan. Much of the building [work] is in response to that.
“The United States will also start to draw down in Afghanistan, these buildings are a fall back position as the US presence in Afghanistan decreases,” he continued.
US officials have associated the Quds Force -- a wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that is used primarily to export Tehran’s brand of militant Islam -- with Islamic extremists in Afghanistan. “The Quds Force is the Iranian regime's primary instrument for providing lethal support to the Taliban. The Quds Force provides weapons and financial support to the Taliban to support anti-US and anti-Coalition activity in Afghanistan,” the US Treasury said in a statement issued in 2007.
Washington’s plans for Central Asia may dovetail with growing calls from Moscow to stem drug trafficking in the region. But some analysts caution that the US-Russian regional rivalry still precludes substantive cooperation north of Afghanistan’s borders.
According to Russian media reports, the planned site of the US-funded training compound in Osh is in the same location that Russia originally sought when it reached a preliminary agreement on a base deal with former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in late 2009. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
The “Osh Polygon,” as the Pentagon’s July 19 pre-solicitation calls it, will feature “range facilities [including] weapons firing and qualification (rifle, pistol, crew-served weapons and explosive/unexploded ordinance), Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facilities, vehicle operator training range, sniper/observer training and operations, repelling and fast rope towers, and support facilities (for example: control towers, outdoor classrooms, sanitary facilities).”
A formal request for proposals will be issued on or about August 2, even though the Kyrgyz Ministry of Defense maintains it knows nothing about the training compound. “We are not working with [the United States] in that regard. We don’t have and didn't have any negotiations with the United States,” Murat Ashirbekov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said.
The pre-solicitation was issued just two days after the provisional head of the Kyrgyz Security Services, Keneshbek Dushebayev, said Kyrgyzstan expects military assistance from both the United States and Russia in the event of a further de-stabilization in southern Kyrgyzstan. “There are serious fears of a repetition of the tragic events in the south, and militants from Afghanistan may be involved there, as anti-Taliban coalition forces are gradually driving them out to the borders, including the Afghan-Tajik border,” Dushebayev said.
Dushebayev suggested that both the United States and Russia should create “temporary” bases in southern Kyrgyzstan. Russia has indicated it will wait until after parliamentary elections in October to re-open talks on a possible base in southern Kyrgyzstan.
However, the head of the Russian drug enforcement agency, Viktor Ivanov, recently ratcheted up the rhetoric about Kyrgyzstan’s role in narcotics trafficking and called for a Russian presence in the country to specifically deal with the threat.
Alexander Knyazev, a consultant at the Institute of Political Decisions, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, said a final decision on a Russian base in southern Kyrgyzstan would be connected with “the whole context of Russian-American relations.”
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.