The annual military exercises involving the U.S., UK and Kazakhstan started today:
About 50 U.S. and British troops joined more than 1,000 Kazakh service members Monday for a two-week military exercise, a sign of NATO's efforts to win clout in Russia's Central Asian backyard.
The eighth annual 'Steppe Eagle' program aims to train Kazakh troops for future deployment with NATO peacekeepers...
So far, only small numbers of Kazakhs have participated in non-combat roles in Iraq. British and U.S. servicemen said Kazakh troops were unlikely to be deployed in Afghanistan due to historical links. However, they said future deployments in places like Kosovo, Darfur and Western Sahara would be possible.
(Emphasis added.) What "historical links" would keep Kazakhstan from participating in Afghanistan?
Kazakhstan's preparation for participation in peacekeeping deployments abroad has been slowed by budget problems: according to Kazakhstan's constitution, conscripts can't be deployed abroad, only professional soldiers. And KAZBRIG, the brigade that's being developed for this purpose (and which is participating in this exercise) still contains many conscripts because Kazakhstan hasn't been able to afford professionalizing it.
A 2009 article, Kazakhstan's Defense Policy: An Assessment of the Trends looks at some of the politicization of the earlier iterations of this exercise:
Steppe Eagle in 2007 provided an opportunity to assess KAZBRIG, especially given intensification on the part of NATO in seeking operational deployment of Kazakhstan’s PSO units. U.S. military representatives overestimated KAZBRIG’s capabilities, suggesting they were in fact “ready.” However, Kazakhstani MoD officials listened attentively to objections and considered criticism from U.K defense officials, resulting in a delay to any declaration of interoperability. Having secured the OSCE’s backing to chair the organization in 2010, Kazakhstan’s MoD leadership stepped up efforts to ready KAZBRIG for its participation in Exercise Steppe Eagle in September 2008. Yet, before the declaration of NATO interoperability was finally granted, members of the assessment team had been leaking several months in advance to NATO MoDs that the “interoperability status” would be granted; underscoring the politicization of the whole project. In any case, despite the success for Kazakhstan in becoming the first country in the region with NATO interoperable PSO capabilities, some officials note that, in reality, it will take at least another 2 years before the country is capable of making such a deployment, and even then it must face the thorny political issue of where to deploy such forces.
So it may be useful, when the exercise ends and we hear the inevitable praise of how great everything went, to remember the above...