Kazakhstan apparently has decided to send a contingent of troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, several news agencies have reported. From Reuters:
An unspecified number of Kazakh soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan on six-month missions with the International Security Assistance Force, in line with a bill passed by the lower house of parliament. The document did not say when the first Kazakh contingent would be going.
The government of Kazakhstan appears to not be trying to make a big splash with the news. The parliament's press service mentions the news only at the bottom of a very long account of yesterday's doings in the lower house of parliament (in Russian):
And today, the Chamber heard the report of the Vice-Minister of Defense Aset Kurmangaliyeva with Majlis member Ualikhan Kalizhanova, and voted to adopt the draft of the law "On Ratification of the Agreement in the form of an exchange of notes between Kazakhstan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to participate in the activities of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan." The bill was approved.
It would be worthwhile to know whether the soldiers being sent are those of the U.S.-backed KAZBRIG peacekeeping brigade. KAZBRIG has gotten off to a slower start than intended, so this would be a sign that at least some small part of the brigade is ready for overseas deployment.
Russian and Azerbaijani officials are meeting soon to discuss terms of Russia's use of the Gabala radar station after the current contract expires next year. And Azerbaijan is signaling that it intends to up its demands from Moscow. News.az quotes an unnamed military source:
“Azerbaijan wants to prepare the new contract. Baku has got a number of proposals concerning it,” said the source and added that the proposals include increase of the lease payment, extra assistance of Russia for eliminating the ecological impacts of the radar, increase of the number of Azerbaijanis in the staff of the radar station, joint use of the radar, non-passage of information to the third state without the consent of Baku etc.
News.az also interviews a military analyst and former top air defense officer, Vladimir Timoshenko, who says that if Russia doesn't want it any longer (a possibility, since it has set up a newer radar in Armavir, in the North Caucasus), it will probably be dismantled:
[I]t is profitable to earn a lot of money for lease of the facility.... So we are interested in extending the contract. If, however, Russia says that the station is no longer needed, the radar will be dismantled for scrap, because we do not need it.
Timoshenko also raises the possibility (but then dismisses it) that even if Russia didn't need it, it might continue to lease it just so that the U.S. doesn't have the chance to use it:
A U.S.. naval ship, the USS Mahan, visited Istanbul last week for a short port visit. These sorts of things happen all the time and aren't usually noteworthy. But the blog Bosphorus Naval News paid close attention to this visit, and noted that the visit may have been driven by commercial, rather than merely friendly, motivations. The destroyer's visit happened to take place during a big defense exposition, IDEF, and the U.S. ambassador's comments at the expo used the ship as a showpiece for U.S. defense industry:
I join Commander Mondlak and his crew in inviting you to tour the proud USS Mahan. This fine example of American high technology and advanced engineering, and is itself the result of partnerships between numerous American companies, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, Alliant, Gould, and Sikorsky, many of whom are represented at IDEF.
In particular, the Mahan has a sort of radar that is under consideration for the next generation of Turkish ships. And U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin had just signed a deal with Turkish manufacturer Havelsan involving production of those radars.
The signed contract of course raises the question whether the next generation of Turkish warships will have SPY radars and components of AEGIS systems on board.
The blog, in a separate post, takes issue with that deal given that Turkey also manufactures naval radars:
Hairatan, the Afghanistan border crossing that's the hub of the NDN
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are at the crisis stage as a result of the raid by U.S. forces to kill Osama bin Laden -- and Uzbekistan could benefit. On Saturday, Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution calling for a thorough review of cooperation with the U.S., including of of the transportation of U.S. and NATO materiel through Pakistan to Afghanistan. From the Los Angeles Times:
The resolution also took aim at the CIA's drone missile campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas, an effort that Pakistan historically has condemned publicly but tacitly approved. "Drone attacks must be stopped forthwith," the resolution warned. Otherwise, the government would "consider taking necessary steps, including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to [NATO and coalition] forces."
Pakistan plays a vital role in keeping supply lines open for U.S. and Western troops battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. About 40% of NATO's non-weapons supplies move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to two crossings along the Afghan border.
The rest of NATO's supplies get to Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network, through various post-Soviet states. The NDN routes enter the former USSR at a variety of points -- Georgia, Latvia and over the Arctic Circle into Russia, for example. But as they get closer to Afghanistan, almost all is winnowed through a single border crossing, at Termez-Hairatan on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. (A recent U.S. military press service story describes some of the logistical efforts in Hairatan.)
May 13 is the sixth anniversary of the massacre in Andijan, Uzbekistan, in which Uzbekistan's security forces opened fire on protesters, killing still-unknown hundreds. That put a pall on relations with the U.S. and Europe for a while, but security cooperation has geared back up. Human Rights Watch is using the occasion of the anniversary to call on the U.S. and European Union countries to "re-examine their relationships with the Uzbek government in light of its atrocious rights record."
HRW calls particular attention to Germany, and its cooperation with Uzbekistan over the use of an airbase at Termez to support German troops in Afghanistan. EurasiaNet's Deirdre Tynan has reported on Germany's payments to the government of Uzbekistan for use the base, which Germany has apparently tried to keep quiet so as to not invite too much public inquiry. When Andijan resulted in EU sanctions against Uzbekistan, Germany "made no secret about its aversion to the EU sanctions from the outset and actively undermined them," HRW says.
"In the wake of Andijan, the German government undermined the sanctions, arguing they weren't effective," Denber said. "If Germany wasn't going to take a principled stand, it should at least have been more honest about why."
According to another document made public by Germany's Green Party, in 2010 Germany paid €15.9 million (US$22.7 milion) to the Uzbek Finance Ministry, in addition to just over 10 million for "rent of objects" and operation fees. Berlin will continue to pay the additional compensation in coming years that it uses the base, the document says.
"It is truly shocking that Germany is paying millions to the Uzbek government with no strings attached," Denber said. "Germany should explain whether it has considered alternatives to Termez, and if so why it has ruled them out in favor of supporting this brutal government."
NATO has apparently agreed to help Kyrgyzstan renovate its border posts and arms depots, after a NATO official traveled to Bishkek and met with President Roza Otunbayeva. From Reuters:
"The president stated that the technical standard of border posts was insufficient and appealed to NATO's leadership to provide support in this respect," Otunbayeva's press service said in a statement after the meeting.
It said Appathurai "expressed NATO's readiness to assist in conducting a major overhaul of depots holding rocket and artillery weapons of the Kyrgyz Republic's Defense Ministry, with particular emphasis on the southern region of the country."
It gave no further detail.
There also appears to be no word from NATO.
In March, Otunbayeva visited Brussels and asked NATO for counterterrorism help, but didn't specify much about what that would entail.
Aside from the technical help that NATO will provide, this seems to be further evidence that Otunbayeva seems to be trying, gently, to orient Kyrgyzstan away from Russia, or at least adding some strategic counterbalance. Remember when everyone was convinced last year that the unrest that led to Otunbayeva assuming the presidency was engineered by Russia? If so, Moscow has to have some buyer's remorse.
The naval security organization BlackSeaFor turns 10 years old this spring, and while its military/security role has been more limited perhaps than its founders envisioned, it has become a useful forum for regional cooperation. That's the analysis of Russian military expert Dmitry Gorenburg. In particular, it is now the only forum in which the Georgian and Russian militaries cooperate, which is no mean feat:
Russia and Turkey have been the driving forces behind BlackSeaFor since its founding. Both states find it a useful venue for enhancing their bilateral relationship and prefer it to other potential naval cooperation options because it is closed to participation by navies from outside the Black Sea region. Several years ago, they sought to turn the initiative into the main counter-terrorism forum in the Black Sea. While this effort succeeded in having counter-terrorism added to the list of BlackSeaFor’s tasks, it had little practical impact on improving the participating states’ maritime counter-terrorism capabilities...
It's the conventional wisdom that Turkey's Islamist Justice and Development Party is leading it "eastward," i.e. away from NATO and its traditional (for the last century, anyway) defense alliance with the West and into the arms of Iran, China and other "eastern" countries. But that's not a correct reading of Turkey today, according to a poll flagged by the Wall Street Journal's Emerging Europe blog.
The poll notes that the unpopularity of NATO in Turkey has been driven not by the AKP, but by nationalists. The poll asked Turks whether NATO is "still essential" or "no longer essential" to Turkey's security. And it found that supporters of the AKP were in fact less likely to say that NATO is "no longer essential" than supporters of the nationalist Nationalist Movement Party and -- possibly more remarkably -- the Kemalist Republican People's Party. And while NATO has become less popular over the past five years among all political groups, it's become much less popular among nationalists than among other Turks.
The Journal suggests that it's nationalists who are in fact pushing the AKP prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan into a more anti-NATO posture:
That’s a finding more surprising to foreigners than to Turks, who have long watched nationalist leaders attack the ruling AK Party for selling out the country to foreign, and in particular U.S., interests.
Special police units descend from a helicopter in joint counter-terror exercises held between China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have carried out counterterrorism exercises in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang province, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And while exercises like this are often conducted against hypothetical or at least thinly veiled enemies, that's not the case with this one, named Tianshan-II -- it was all about the Uyghurs:
"Signs are the 'East Turkistan' terrorists are flowing back," Vice-Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei said after the exercise. "The drill was designed against the backdrop that they are very likely to penetrate into China from Central Asia..."
A spokesman for the National Counter-terrorism Office of China said that while the region is generally stable, the "three forces" have been colluding with "East Turkistan" terrorist forces both in and out of China to involve in cross-border activities in recent years.
They wait for opportune moments to start up disturbances that have remained a common threat to SCO member states, the spokesman said when describing the reason why Xinjiang was chosen for the exercise.
In July 2009, nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous region, in violence believed to have been masterminded by a separatist group based overseas.
Uyghur separatism, of course, is not a "common threat" to any SCO member state other than China, and the violence in Urumqi was, by all accounts, the product of local grievances rather than being "masterminded" from abroad. But anyway, the specific scenario of this exercise, according to Peoples Daily Online::
The scenario called on the three countries to coordinate a manhunt for separatists who had set up a training camp on the Chinese side of the border, according to the Ministry of Public Security.