Turkmenistan has approached the United States asking for military aid to help the country address instability on its border with Afghanistan, and Washington is trying to support the requests, a senior American military official has said.
The head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, testified before Congress this week and gave CENTCOM's annual "posture statement," which includes rare public pronouncements of the U.S.'s official military policy toward Central Asia. This year probably the most newsworthy statement was about Turkmenistan.
While noting that "Turkmenistan’s declared policy of positive neutrality limits our opportunities for substantive military-to-military collaboration," Austin also reported that "[t]he Turkmens recently expressed a desire to acquire U.S. military equipment and technology to address threats to their security along their southern border with Afghanistan. We will do what we can to support those requests." Austin did not provide details about what sort of equipment was being considered. There have been several recent reports of increased Islamist militant activity in the northern regions of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan, and Russia has been pressing Turkmenistan to allow it to provide military assistance.
Austin also pointed to the growing military relationship with Uzbekistan, highlighted by the decision to give more than 300 armored vehicles to the country's armed forces. "The U.S. military relationship with Uzbekistan has strengthened considerably over the past year," Austin testified. "And, expanded U.S. Special Forces training will further improve the Uzbek military’s capacity to meet security challenges."
On Tajikistan, Austin suggested that a shakeup at the higher echelons of the Ministry of Defense has complicated the military-to-military relationship: "Our relationship with Tajikistan is advancing steadily in spite of significant Ministry of Defense leadership changes and growing security concerns."
The U.S. military relationship with Uzbekistan has strengthened considerably over the past year with implementation of the first year of the five-year Plan for Military and Military Technical Cooperation. Mutual interests related to improving border security, CT, counter-narcotics, and countering the return of Uzbek fighters from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, underpin our relationship. The provision of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles through the Excess Defense Articles program improved protection provided to Uzbek security forces. And, expanded U.S. Special Forces training will further improve the Uzbek military’s capacity to meet security challenges. Uzbekistan remains committed to ensuring regional stability via continued support for our operations in Afghanistan by providing access to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). It also provides electricity to northern Afghanistan. As with other countries in Central Asia, Uzbekistan continues to prefer bilateral vice multi-lateral military relationships.
Our relationship with Tajikistan is advancing steadily in spite of significant Ministry of Defense leadership changes and growing security concerns. We continue to assist the Tajiks in developing the capacity to meet a variety of CT, CN, and border security challenges, while also supporting their development of a peacekeeping capability. Tajikistan provides critical support to ongoing Afghanistan operations by allowing transit along the NDN. That said, the Tajiks are concerned about the near- and long-term effects of the Afghanistan transition on regional security and stability.
The Kyrgyz Republic faces many of the same or similar security challenges as its neighbors, particularly with respect to the threat posed by violent extremist elements operating in the region. Bilateral and multi-lateral engagements in the areas of CT, CN, and border security continue on a case-by-case basis. Our military-to-military relationship with the Kyrgyz has been positive. We are assisting them with their development of an explosive ordnance disposal capability. We look forward to full resumption of security cooperation activities, pending the successful outcome of ongoing negotiations for a replacement of the Defense Cooperation Agreement that expired in July of 2014.
Our relationship with Kazakhstan is one of the most well developed in the Central Asia subregion. The Ministry of Defense continues its transformation from a traditional Soviet-style territorial defense role into a more modern, adaptable force capable of meeting multiple, diverse security threats. Furthermore, the Kazaks have proactively sought our assistance in improving their training, personnel management, and logistics capabilities.
Kazakhstan remains the largest contributor among the Central Asian states to Afghan stability, providing technical and financial support to the ANSF and educational opportunities in Kazakhstan for young Afghans. We continue to leverage Steppe Eagle, the annual multinational peacekeeping exercise co-sponsored by the U.S. and Kazakhstan, to improve peacekeeping capabilities and to foster regional integration.
Turkmenistan’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and efforts to increase regional economic integration are important to enhancing stability in the Central Asia sub-region. However, Turkmenistan’s declared policy of positive neutrality limits our opportunities for substantive military-to-military collaboration. Engagements in the areas of Caspian Sea security, disaster preparedness, medical services readiness, and professional military education continue; however, they are limited. The Turkmens recently expressed a desire to acquire U.S. military equipment and technology to address threats to their security along their southern border with Afghanistan. We will do what we can to support those requests.