China's performance in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization exercises in Kazakhstan suggests that Beijing is preparing its military to be able to intervene unilaterally in Central Asia, says Roger McDermott. He also notes that China seemed to be showing off equipment and capabilities that were domestically produced and which Russia, in particular, lacked:
Intervention during a crisis in Central Asia appears more plausible, though it remains unclear whether the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the SCO might offer a viable multilateral framework in such circumstances, or if a bilateral agreement would be preferred resulting in a unilateral operation...
As the PLAAF develops its air combat group, integrating combat, early warning command, long-range strikes, escort and cover, and in-flight refueling, Peace Mission 2010 was confidently used to demonstrate advances made towards carrying out independent long-range precision strikes. The PLAAF was evidently practicing offensive air operations in an informatized network-centric context. The underlying message appeared to be that the PLA stands out among the SCO forces for its growing power projection capabilities.
Since the other members of the SCO currently lack network-centric capabilities, it is revealing that China chose to demonstrate these power projection levels during a multilateral exercise. The reasons underlying this show of genuine military strength are rooted in the dynamic tension that exists within the competitive and cooperative Sino-Russian strategic partnership. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and China’s emergence as the second strongest world economic power, many perceive that Beijing is willing to raise its defense profile internationally...
The problems with U.S. military supply lines in Pakistan have raised the possibility that the U.S. and NATO will be forced to increase their use of the Northern Distribution Network, as EurasiaNet's Deirdre Tynan reports today. A spokeswoman for U.S. Transportation Command says the problems in Pakistan won't force a significant increase in NDN traffic. But some disagree; one company put out a press release touting the new opportunities provided by the Pakistan closure:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- FMN Logistics today responds to Pakistan's closing of its border and transport routes by bringing attention to the availability of the Northern Distribution Network as a safe and reliable route for transporting cargo into Afghanistan.
"With the recent developments in Pakistan it is vital that a safe alternative for supplying FOB's and organizations operating within Afghanistan exist. The NDN offers a series of commercially-based logistical arrangements connecting Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus," said Harry Eustace, Jr. CEO of FMN Logistics.
"FMN has been on the ground since the beginning of the NDN and we have just completed our 1,000th container shipment using this route. In fact, FMN has delivered more consignments to NATO and US Forces than any other freight forwarder operating on the NDN. As concerns continue to grow about the Pakistani supply routes, the NDN and FMN's capabilities there are crucial to the continuing support of United States and NATO Forces and their prime service contractors," Eustace continued.
FMN is the only full-service, American-owned and managed logistics provider with boots on the ground in all of the former Soviet Stans as well as Afghanistan.
Some top Georgian officials are in Washington today to meet under the auspices of the formal strategic partnership they agreed last year. And if the opening remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri are anything to go by, the U.S. could be softening on the question of the U.S. arming Georgia.
The United States remains committed to Georgia’s aspirations for membership in NATO, as reflected in the Alliance’s decisions in Bucharest and Strasbourg-Kehl. We strongly support Georgia’s efforts related to its Annual National Program, which promotes defense reform and guides cooperation with NATO. And we continue to support Georgia’s efforts on defense reform and improving defense capabilities, including NATO interoperability and Georgia’s contributions to ISAF operations in Afghanistan.
(Emphasis added) Of course, that's a pretty subtle statement, but it does seem to stand out recently from other administration officials saying Georgia is "not ready" for new weapons.
And, according to the strategic partnership agreement, the Georgians do have a point. In the text of the charter, equipping the Georgian military is explicitly mentioned:
1. Working within the framework of the NATO-Georgia Commission, the United States and Georgia intend to pursue a structured plan to increase interoperability and coordination of capabilities between NATO and Georgia, including via enhanced training and equipment for Georgian forces.
So look out for possible policy changes after these meetings...
With the deaths of five Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan, there are rumblings of discontent among Georgians: Georgia's press feels like they aren't getting enough information about their country's military deployment, reports media.ge:
The Georgian International Association of Military Journalists having expressed deep condolences over the killing of Georgian military servicemen in Afghanistan calls upon the government to provide full information on the activity of the Georgian military subdivision in Afghanistan, the causes of death of the militaries and the number of the injured, reads the special statement released by the Association notifying that the authorities withhold detailed information on the aforementioned facts which is conducive to generating various rumors.
"...Thus far, the authorities, in particular the Ministry of Defense, has not disseminated the information on the circumstances of the death of Georgian militaries in Afghanistan. This silence incites various rumors and political speculation that the Georgian government hides the real facts of the case and withholds information on the actual number of the wounded. Distorted news first of all humiliates self-sacrificing deeds by the Georgian militaries and disgraces the importance of the whole Georgian mission and tasks," reads the statement.
Meanwhile, in Tajikistan, the government is accusing the press of taking the side of the Islamist militants who have been causing trouble recently:
Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev has accused independent newspapers of sympathizing with the Islamic militants who ambushed an army convoy in late August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
The Islamist militants who have been wreaking havoc in Tajikistan have been driven there by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a Taliban commander in Afghanistan tells Newsweek:
Taliban sources in Afghanistan say jihadist allies from Central Asia have started heading home. Though the exodus is being encouraged by relentless American drone attacks against the fighters’ back bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas, it’s not necessarily good news for U.S. forces. The dislodged jihadists aren’t quitting the battlefield; on the contrary, they’re expanding their range across the unguarded northern Afghan border into Tajikistan to create new Taliban sanctuaries there, assist Islamist rebels in the region, and potentially imperil the Americans’ northern supply lines.
The Central Asians retreated to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the late 1990s after failing to topple their home governments. Now they seem ready to try again, using guerrilla tactics and know-how they’ve picked up from the Taliban about improvised explosive devices. Small groups of Tajik and Uzbek militants began moving into Tajikistan in late winter 2009, says a Taliban subcommander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. In Kunduz they joined up with fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a Qaeda-linked group active there and in Tajikistan. “Once these first groups made it back safely [to Tajikistan], they signaled to militants here in Kunduz and even in Pakistan’s tribal areas that the journey was possible,” the subcommander, who didn’t want to be named for security reasons, tells newsweek.
Another commander largely confirmed that account, though estimates on how many fighters have gone from Afghanistan/Pakistan to Tajikistan vary from 70 to 150.
When Georgia lost its first soldier in Afghanistan about a month ago, the question arose as to whether Georgian public support for the deployment in Afghanistan would suffer as a result. Now, as EurasiaNet's Giorgi Lomsadze notes, Georgia just lost four more soldiers to a mine explosion in Helmand province.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili held a press conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasumussen, who happened to be visiting at the time, and spoke extensively about how the soldiers' deaths were in the service of Georgia's national interest:
Yesterday night we have received very unfortunate news about the tragic death of Colonel Ramaz Gogiashvili, Sergeant Dato Tsetskhladze, Corporal George Kolkhitashvili and Corporal Nugzar Kalandadze.
Being Soldier is a very honorable but at the same time very dangerous profession.
This is the profession that requires great devotion and self-sacrifice.
Georgian warriors traditionally, fought in many countries, during all our history.
Our warriors commanded the armies of old Persia, Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Russia...
It would be a big mistake to determine state's interests in the Georgia's borders, while a global political struggle Is conducted against us.
We have international interests and have allies and friends. The fact that our five-crossed flag is raised above this building, also the fact that Georgia successfully proceeds development, as independent country, although 20 percent of its territory is occupied, is the big deserve of our international links, our friends, our communion.
Later, Saakashvili said that NATO accession is Georgia's top strategic priority.
The U.S. has been accused of becoming soft on Uzbekistan's human rights record because of its close military cooperation with Tashkent on the Northern Distribution Network, which carries a significant portion of U.S.'s war materiel to Afghanistan via Central Asia. But evidence has been somewhat hard to come by to either prove or disprove that assertion.
Now, though, a conflict is brewing that could be a big litmus test for exactly how far the U.S. is willing to push Uzbekistan on human rights, and how much Uzbekistan is willing to push back. An Uzbek journalist for the Voice of America, based in Tashkent, has been arrested and goes on trial next week for various defamation and being a "threat to public order and security." International observers are unanimous on the charges being trumped up and intended to frighten Uzbekistan's already beleaguered press.
The U.S. ambassador to the OSCE released a statement condemning the journalist's treatment:
The United States wishes to express its grave concern about the state of media freedom in Uzbekistan. We find particularly worrying the present charges brought against journalist Abdulmalik Boboyev. A majority of the charges against Mr. Boboyev are related directly to his work as a journalist, including charges of insult, defamation and preparing and disseminating material constituting a threat to public order and security. A fourth charge is for “illegal entry into the country” and apparently stems from a minor incident involving a missing stamp in Mr. Boboyev’s passport.
Russia and China brought their big guns to the SCO exercise in Kazakhstan
Do you need fighter jets and anti-aircraft guns to fight terrorists? That's apparently what the Shanghai Cooperation Organization thinks, notes Roger McDermott in an analysis of the SCO's recently concluded exercises in Kazakhstan:
Russian defense ministry controlled Zvezda TV, showed footage of the exercise which exemplified the dichotomy between the forces used and the unfolding “counter-terrorist” scenario: Su-25 fighter jets, soldiers in trenches, use of an antiaircraft missile system (Strela), commanders at an observation post, tank maneuvers, all apparently aimed at encircling a town to block the escape route of the “terrorists.” It appears that the exercise scenario in this instance envisaged the arrival of several massive groups of militants supported by “combat aviation,” gradually penetrating the territory of an SCO member state. Moreover, on September 22, Zvezda TV broadcast footage of a combined “massive strike” against “terrorists” using airpower and missiles launched from the Russian Tochka U complex.
McDermott is likely right to express skepticism about that "dichotomy." I don't know much about the Russian or Chinese defense industries, but it seems plausible that, just as in the U.S., their military-industrial complexes hold a lot of sway and are not interested in moving away from high-tech, big-ticket items toward a more human-centric counterinsurgency approach.
But who knows -- the Taliban used to operate in massed formations fighting this sort of conventional warfare. They even used to have an air force. Might China and Russia worry that in a post-America Central Asia that they could again become a serious conventional fighting force?
My money is on the military-industrial complex theory.
Russia's announcement last week that it was calling off the sale of S-300 air defense systems to Iran was a big deal -- but the real story may have been even bigger than that, says Dmitry Gorenburg. Moscow has in fact canceled nearly all arms sales to Iran, which represents more than ten times as much business as the S-300. And he concurs with the consensus that it was Russia's desire to get along better with the U.S. that did it:
As far as the specifics of the S-300 decision, I don’t think the Russian leaders were ever all that strongly committed to selling the S-300 to Iran. I think that to some extent, it was always partially a bargaining chip that was used against the U.S. in moments when relations were problematic. So from that point of view, it’s possible that Putin didn’t change his mind at all, but the circumstances changed sufficiently that the balance between Russia’s bilateral relationships with the U.S. and Iran changed sufficiently that it became worthwhile to publicly shift positions on this sale. This would mean that U.S. policies toward Russia were bearing fruit.
Hazing in post-Soviet militaries is unfortunately common. What's less common is someone getting punished for it, but that's what's happening in Armenia, where an officer was arrested and faces a sentence of up to five years for beating a young soldier. And that's at least in part thanks to the efforts of Armenian activist bloggers, who kept pushing the story until the Defense Ministry was forced to act:
The Armenian Defense Ministry officially confirmed on Wednesday the identity of an army officer who was arrested last week for abusing his soldiers and is now facing up to five years in prison.
The arrest followed the circulation of an amateur Youtube video that shows a uniform-clad man hitting and humiliating two army conscripts during what looks like a picnic. The footage caused public outrage, prompting the Armenian military to order an inquiry.
The Defense Ministry initially questioned its veracity and said those who posted it on the Internet are keen to “discredit” the Armed Forces. Subsequent media reports said military investigators tracked down the officer shown in the clip.
As EurasiaNet reported just earlier this month, the Armenian MoD had been taking stronger action against hazing even before this video came out. But the existence of video makes it much harder for those who are inclined to reflexively defend the army to deny that hazing is a problem. (The same thing happened in Azerbaijan a couple of years ago.) While the promise of cyberactivism can often be exaggerated, this is one case where there's room for optimism.