Security Assistance to Eurasia: Looking Ahead

U.S. security assistance to Central Asia and the Caucasus has been inextricably linked to the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan. U.S. military and police aid to the region, both from the State Department and Defense Department, jumped after the September 11, 2001 attacks and has steadily become a higher and higher priority for U.S. aid in the region. Since 2001, the U.S. has set up air bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and established military supply lines to Afghanistan through the Caucasus and Central Asia. U.S. Marines have trained thousands of Georgian troops, and U.S. special forces soldiers have trained their counterparts across the region, most notably in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. All of that activity has been a direct result of the U.S. “war on terror.”

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As is visible in the graph above, U.S. security assistance, which had been quite modest in 2000 (and the years before), jumped sharply in 2001 and 2002 as the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan. The scale of military aid dropped as the U.S.’s attention turned to Iraq in 2003, but jumped again in 2007 – as the U.S. began to pivot its attention again toward Afghanistan – and has remained relatively steady since then. (Note: the graph above, and all the graphs in this post, filter out counterproliferation programs, which are officially security assistance programs but which carry out a very different mission.)

Now, with the start of the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan just a year away, it’s safe to assume that security assistance in Eurasia will decline. Here are five of the major storylines that Security Assistance Monitor will be tracking during that process:

Kyrgyzstan

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The U.S. has provided substantial training and equipping of Kyrgyzstan’s special forces, and U.S. officials have in the past explicitly tied military aid programs (as well as economic aid programs) to the U.S. Air Force’s presence at the Manas air base. The U.S. uses that base for refueling operations in Afghanistan as well as to process all the troops entering and leaving the region. But Kyrgyzstan’s government has said it wants the U.S. to leave by the time the current basing agreement expires in July 2014, and it appears that the U.S. will comply. So now that it appears that the U.S. is on its way out of that base, it seems likely that much of that aid will be curtailed.

Tajikistan

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As with Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. has given much training and equipment to Tajikistan’s special forces units. But this aid could be threatened by something unrelated to Afghanistan: the controversial operation last year in the eastern city of Khorog. In that operation, U.S.-trained and equipped forces indiscriminately fired on civilians, and the scale of the operation alienated many residents, who had some legitimate grievances against the government. While the U.S. has been very quiet about its conversations with the Tajikistan government and security forces about this event, the issue is heavily discussed (in private) among U.S. officials dealing with Tajikistan, and this summer a team from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor went to Tajikistan to investigate the situation.

Uzbekistan

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Uzbekistan was the U.S.’s major partner in Central Asia in the immediate post-9/11 period, and hosted an air base not far from the border with Afghanistan. But the U.S. Congress, concerned about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, imposed restrictions on U.S. military aid to the country in 2004. U.S.-Uzbekistan ties further soured after a massacre of hundreds of protesters in the city of Andijan, and Uzbekistan’s government kicked the U.S. out of the base in 2005. As is evident from the graph above, U.S. military cooperation almost completely ceased in the few years after that, but it has since increased substantially as the U.S. started to use Uzbek territory to ship material in and out of Afghanistan in 2009.

As it prepares to leave Afghanistan, the U.S. has promised to provide Uzbekistan excess equipment including body armor, GPS, and night-vision goggles, as well as small surveillance drones. Uzbekistan had an ambitious shopping list, and President Islam Karimov even reportedly told visiting U.S. officials that he wanted to replace all of the country’s Soviet/Russian military hardware with Western gear.

Excess Equipment from Afghanistan

The U.S. has said that it plans to give away some of the equipment it now has in Afghanistan, both civilian and military, to partner countries, including those in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Many of the details have yet to be worked out, and the Pentagon agency in charge of that effort has abandoned one plan to manage the giveaways. But all of the countries in the region are eager about the prospect of free gear.

Georgia

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Georgia has been the largest recipient in the region of U.S. military aid over the last decade, with especially large programs focused on training Georgian forces, first for counterterror operations against Chechen militants and later for Georgia’s contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the mission in Afghanistan coming to a close, that training will likely be scaled back, although Georgia will continue to be involved in the post-2014 training mission in Afghanistan. In addition, the hopes of the Georgian government to acquire American weaponry appear to have dimmed, though the two countries have agreed on a more modest aid package including military transport helicopters. 

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