Screenshot from Pentagon Channel video report on Alaska National Guard C-130J training mission to Mongolia (http://www.dvidshub.net/video/284878/alaska-guard-travels-mongolia#.UVORwlvGSp2)
Mongolia is in discussions to buy American-made military transport airplanes, and is getting U.S. help in learning how to operate the aircraft. That ambitious purchase appears to signal that Mongolia has mining money to spend, and it's using some of it to upgrade its armed forces.
Mongolia is looking at buying three C-130J transport airplanes, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The planes would likely be used to transport the country's armed forces on its increasingly ambitious international peacekeeping missions. From a press release by the Alaska National Guard, whose airmen recently traveled to Mongolia to conduct training on C-130 maintenance:
In a country as vast and open as Alaska, the Mongolian Air and Air Defense Force is tasked with transporting Mongolian Armed Forces, but with only Soviet-era helicopters that include the MI-24B, MI-8T and MI-171E, they lack the capacity to transport large numbers of personnel, making it impossible to meet all their mission requirements.
“This is a great professional exchange for us,” said 1st Lt. Bayasgalan Baljinnyam, platoon commander, Unit 337 Nalaikh Air Base, Mongolian Air and Air Defense Force. “Our national Air Force needs a C-130 because we need to participate in every mission and right now we have to call on civilian aircraft to transport our troops. We need to have our own C-130 so we can manage ourselves and transport our own troops to other countries.”
Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Turkey have agreed to create a "joint armed forces of Turkic-language countries," the four countries decided at a "constitutive conference of the Association of Eurasian Law Enforcement Organs with Military Status" on January 23 in Baku.
Few details were offered about what exactly this new force would entail. Given that the officials at the conference were from law enforcement agencies (Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry, Turkey's Gendarmerie, Kyrgyzstan's "internal police"), the phrase "joint armed forces" seems a bit grandiose, but that's what they're calling it. What will be the function of this unit? Will Kyrgyz police operate in Turkey, or vice versa? And is Mongolian really a Turkic language?
The one concrete thing that seems to have been decided is that the symbol of the new unit will be a horse. Still, it's an intriguing development: most of the energy around Turkic unity in the 1990s has dissipated, and now talk of inter-Turkic unity is relegated mostly to the cultural sphere. So a Turkic armed unit of any sort would break some ground. And if the Tatars join, then we'll really have some news...
UPDATE: Both Turkey and Kyrgyzstan are denying that this actually happened. The dreams of the pan-Turkicists dashed again...
When Genghis Khan’s army emerged from the Mongolian steppe back in the 13th century, one of the keys to his success was an equine postal system that enabled messages to travel across his vast and growing empire in a matter of days. He oversaw the establishment of a network of horse stations that allowed riders to exchange their exhausted steeds for fresh mounts and keep on moving.
Now, following in the hoof steps of the Khan’s hordes comes a modern-day take on the 13th-century's information superhighway – the Mongol Derby. Billed as the world's longest horse race, this grueling 1,000-kilometer marathon will retrace ancient routes across the rolling steppe with 25 horse stations set up at 40-kilometer intervals.
This year, the race, which has been held annually since 2009, gets underway on August 10. Competitors aim to complete the course on semi-wild mounts in an exhausting seven to ten days. The event aims to raise money for economic development charity work in Mongolia. It’s the brainchild of The Adventurists, the group that is also behind the annual Mongol Rally, a race from London to Ulaanbaatar in a vehicle with an engine size of one liter or less.
For the riders in this extreme equine test, the keyword is “adventure.” There's no route as such: It's up to participants to make their way between the horse stations as quickly as they can. At the stations each must pick up fresh horses. Accommodation is basic: Competitors either share a ger, a round felt tent, with a nomadic family or sleep under the stars in the wilderness.
Sartay’s is a peace-loving village. But when marauding Mongolian Dzungars brutally slay most of the inhabitants, including his parents, the Kazakh youth has no choice but to raise an army of teenagers to fight back, courageously attacking the Mongolians and rallying other youths to the cause.
Across Kazakhstan, an epic historical movie with an unabashedly patriotic tale is playing to packed theaters.
Directed by Akhan Satayev for the state-run Kazakhfilm studio, “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe” opens with the Dzungars’ vicious attack and the making of our hero. Myn Bala in Kazakh means 1,000 children – Sartay (played by Asylkhan Tolepov) actually raises an army of 100, but he tells them before the final battle scene that together they are worth 1,000 warriors.
Director Satayev is better known for making movies with subtle plot twists that tackle modern-day problems such as organized crime, but audiences don’t seem to mind the black-and-white approach to history in his latest film. At a recent showing in Almaty, viewers applauded at the end. As Tengri News reported, Myn Bala is proving a blockbuster, taking a million dollars at the box office in the first weekend after its release on May 3, a Kazakh record.
The film’s success is notable since it was shot in Kazakh (with a bit of Mongolian). Films in Kazakh often struggle in a country where only about two-thirds of people speak the language, but the movie (called “Zhauzhurek Myn Bala” in Kazakh, or “The Brave Thousand Children”) is showing in the original language with Russian subtitles in many theaters.
Mongolia is using its newly exploited mineral wealth to reform its social services. While the government should be applauded for looking to the future, it is a challenge ensuring the changes don’t come at the expense of the majority of people in this vast and rural country. Mongolia’s unique population structure creates especially difficult conditions for schools, which are frequently over-crowded in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, but must accommodate sparse and highly dispersed populations elsewhere.
Mongolia’s approach to education reform appears to be quite similar to efforts in Kazakhstan, another natural resource-rich Central Asian state. Both countries are working with prestigious Cambridge University to develop a small network of elite schools that will serve the most academically successful students in the capital city and regional centers. The goal seems to be to develop schools to match their elite counterparts in developed countries quickly—a sort of superficial European renovation for the education system. Both countries also envision the good teaching practices that Cambridge consultants help develop and implement to trickle down to the rest of the education system.
Mongolia's defense minister has said the country is planning to send 850 peacekeepers to South Sudan, according to Xinhua:
"Sending soldiers to South Sudan, which is a newly independent country with civil war, is a matter of honor," the minister said...
In the past, Mongolian peacekeepers had served in conflict zones such as Iraq, Sierra Leone, Chad, Sudan, Kosova and Afghanistan, according to the defense minister.
"The responsibilities of Mongolian soldiers are also increasing. Previously, our soldiers were guarding military bases. Now they are guarding airports," he said.
Earlier this year, Mongolia had announced that it was going to send 850 peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire, but then nothing more was heard about that, and the defense minister at the time alluded to some bureaucratic holdups. So it seems reasonable to assume that that mission is now off the table and that the soldiers are going to South Sudan instead. I've tried to contact some sources in Ulaanbaatar for some clarification and more information, but thus far no luck. Will update as I get more information.
UPDATE: I heard back from a Mongolian defense official, who said this:
Yes, we couldn’t send troops to Cote d'Ivoire due to some bureaucratic procedure at UNDPKO. This time we could overcome this procedure, and UNDPKO has confirmed its approval sending our battalion /850 soldiers/ to South Sudan.
Moreover, we are nearly doubling our troop contribution to Afghanistan. Our troop number there will reach 350 instead 190 starting from this November.
The Indian Army stunt motorcycle team performs in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Mongolia and India are currently performing joint military exercises, as each country is concerned about a rising China, reports Defense News:
Indian and Mongolian troops will hold joint exercises in Mongolia Sept. 15-29, said an Indian Defence Ministry official. Last year, Mongolian troops held joint exercises on Indian soil....
"New Delhi wants to have better ties with the Chinese neighbor with an on eye on containing China," said Mahindra Singh, retired Indian Army major general.
A report in The Diplomat gives a little more context, noting that both sides hope that they can improve trade relations by boosting military cooperation:
An estimated 40 Indian troops will take part in the military exercises, which will focus on counterinsurgency training. Last month, Indian troops took part in the sixth annual Khaan Quest, a week-long Mongolian-hosted joint-training exercise aimed at enhancing cooperation between regional militaries...
The rapid amelioration of Indo-Mongolian security ties was formalized when both countries signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement during [ Indian President Pratibha] Patil’s visit in July. The pact isn’t overly comprehensive though, as Mongolia remains cautious about getting too cosy with India on defence issues. India, however, seems keen to enhance defence ties rapidly. The rationale behind this is simple—New Delhi believes that it will be more competitive in Mongolia’s lucrative mining and trade sectors if it diversifies its engagement, morphing from investor to strategic partner.
Members of the Mongolian state honor guard stand at attention while being addressed by the Mongolian President Ts. Eldegdorj during the opening ceremony of Exercise Khaan Quest 2011 at Five Hills Training Area, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 31.
Mongolia has kicked off its annual international peacekeeping exercise, Khaan Quest, with about 900 soldiers from 11 countries taking part. In addition to Mongolians, the exercises will include the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore. The exercises began Sunday, will last until August 12 and focus on peacekeeping operations.
The exercise is organized since 2003 by U.S. Pacific Command and is one of the more visible elements of Mongolia's "third neighbor" policy, by which Mongolia tries to strengthen relations with countries beyond its two immediate neighbors, Russia and China, which Ulaanbaatar fears will hold too much leverage over their small country. (For example, a recent trade dispute with Russia has resulted in fuel shortages in Mongolia, and some Mongolians see it as retaliation for shutting Russia out of a big mining deal.)
But Russia probably isn't feeling too left out of the exercises: Mongolia's defense minister, Luvsanvandan Bold, has said that the country plans to buy four or five new MiG-29 fighter jets as well as a ground training flight simulator from Russia. This will be Mongolia's first fielding of MiG-29s; the country's air force now flies a small number of MiG-21s. This follows the pattern that the U.S. has established in other post-Soviet countries, most notably Kazakhstan: understanding that the military ties with Russia are too great to supplant entirely, the U.S. will instead focus on training and equipping small, niche forces to take part in U.N. peacekeeping and U.S.-led military operations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan's Afghanistan deployment may have been abandoned, but its (almost) neighbor Mongolia is increasing its troop contribution. Within the next couple of months, the country will be adding about 120 soldiers to its contingent in Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan's far northeast (bordering Tajikistan) where the German military leads operations. According to AFP (in German), the new Mongolian troops will amount to one company of infantry, snipers and medics and will patrol (but not participate in "offensive operations") in addition to its current mission of guarding the German camp.
NATO public relations has a video report on the Mongolian deployment in Afghanistan, though they use some different numbers -- AFP says there are now 74 Mongolian soldiers in Afghanistan, while this report says it's 200 (though NATO's own numbers support the AFP figure):
Be sure not to miss the display of "traditional combat skills" at the end of that video.
Mongolia is proposing to send 1,500 peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire, in what would be by far its largest troop contribution to an international mission (and, if we want to be cute about it, the largest troop deployment abroad since the days of the Mongol Empire).
The United Nations made the request of Mongolia last month, but bureaucratic wrangling appears to be holding up the deployment, according to the country's defense minister Luvsanvandan Bold:
The Government has approved the request but some high state officials’ bureaucratic attitude is stalling any further action, to the dismay of the Ministry of Defense. We can send a large contingent of 1,500 soldiers to help in peace keeping there but officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are sitting on the issue. The UN request came more than a month ago, but no reply has been sent.
An earlier report suggested that Mongolia was asked to send 850 troops, and it's not clear what accounts for the increase.
This blog often neglects poor Mongolia, but the country is doing interesting things with its military, and is a useful comparison to other post-Soviet states, in particular Central Asian ones, which have similar cultures and histories. But Mongolia has been much more active than any of those countries in contributing to UN missions. Over 2,300 Mongolian peacekeepers have served in Sierra Leone alone, with contributions in several other UN missions, as well as in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.