Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Become Focus of U.S. Counternarcotics Training

The United States military has substantially stepped up its counternarcotics assistance training programs with a number of Central Asian states, according to recently released documents from the U.S. State and Defense Departments. According to the documents, in 2012 the U.S. trained over 800 officers from the region under the Department of Defense’s Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance program, after training none at all in 2011 and only handfuls in previous years.

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Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were the largest recipients of Section 1004 aid, with most assistance going to the State Committees for National Security (known by the Russian acronym, GKNB) of the respective countries. The GKNB – as in many ex-Soviet states, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB – has a wide mission profile, including both countering external threats and harassing internal political opposition.

The report, Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest, 2012-2013, lists all training activities of foreign militaries, including via the International Military Education and Training (IMET), Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (known on the Security Assistance Monitor after its funding source, the Peacekeeping Operations program), and other programs. In Central Asia, the total number of forces trained in 2012 was 1,385, up from 604 in 2011. But subtracting the Section 1004 activities, the number of Central Asian troops trained in other programs declined over the year.

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In the Caucasus, the total number of trainees rose from 725 in 2011 to 978 in 2012. Most of the increase was represented by Armenia, 115 of whose troops in a peacekeeping brigade intended to be compatible with NATO underwent training in Germany. In Azerbaijan, the largest single event was a “Diving and Floating Mine Response” course for 40 naval special operations forces, funded through the Pentagon’s Section 1206 Train and Equip Authority.

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(Note: in the documents, every single course in this region under Section 1004 is listed is having taken place from January 1-2, 2012. That seems unlikely, and so when exactly these courses took place is unclear. Nevertheless, it’s clear there has been a large, recent increase in the number of troops in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with counternarcotics funding.)

Tajikistan had the greatest number of Section 1004 trainees in the region in 2012, with 411. Of those, 350 were from the GKNB; the affiliation of the other 61 trainees is listed as “N/A.” Among the subjects taught, according to the documents, were: “Train-the-Trainer Instructor Development… Weapons Safety and Handling Procedures, Basic and Advanced Combat Marksmanship, Crew Served Weapons Employment and Maintenance… Troop Leading Procedures, Weapons Safety and Handling, Basic and Advanced CQC [close quarters combat] Crew Served Weapons Employment and Maintenance, Small Unit Tactics, Sensitive Site Exploitation, Targeting the Law of Armed Conflict, the Law of Land Warfare.”

In Kyrgyzstan, 225 troops were trained under Section 1004. From the GKNB, 50 officers were trained on “Weapons Safety & Handling Procedures; Troop Leading Procedures, Advanced Combat Marksmanship, Crew Served Weapons Employment and Maintenance, Small Unit Tactics, Long Range Precision Fire, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, Close Quarters Combat.” From the “GSNB” (likely referring to the GKNB; the agency has changed names back and forth in recent years), another 50 were trained on a similar curriculum, as were 100 officers from the Ministries of Defense and Interior.

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Tajikistan has a long, porous border with Afghanistan, and many have expressed concern about its ability to handle the flow of narcotics coming from Afghanistan en route to markets in Russia and Europe. As such, it is also the focus of Russian efforts to shore up security in Central Asia ahead of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in 2014. Kyrgyzstan also is a major transit route for the drugs from Tajikistan, but the recent eviction of the U.S.’s air base at Manas imperils some U.S. security assistance. Meanwhile, Russia has also made Kyrgyzstan a focal point of its efforts to restore its military influence in Central Asia.

Both countries also have a record of using U.S. military aid in ways that Washington did not intend, primarily by directing it towards strengthening the current political regimes rather than on combating external threats. “The [Tajikistan] GKNB is a notoriously corrupt and repressive institution, allegedly involved in drug smuggling and openly engaged in repression of legitimate political dissent,” said Susan Corke, director of Eurasia Programs at Freedom House.

In the other Central Asian states, the number of officers trained was smaller, and the courses appeared more oriented toward the classroom than on combat. In Kazakhstan, 125 officers were trained under Section 1004. The units trained weren’t specified, but the courses offered were titled “Advanced Instructor Development Seminar;” “Drug Enforcement Seminar;” “Drug Related Money Laundering;” “Drug Unit Commander Course;” and “Financial and Synthetic Drugs Investigations.”

For the first time since 2004, the U.S. trained troops in Uzbekistan under Section 1004. But the documents released by the State Department give no details about which units were trained. The training appeared to modest, however: 44 total troops, and as in Kazakhstan the subjects taught appeared not to involve any kinetic training; the courses were “Drug Information Collection and Analysis Seminar;” “Instructor Development Seminar;” and “Specialized Drug Enforcement Seminar.” Likewise, in Turkmenistan, the 36 officers trained under Section 1004 took a course entitled “Drug Enforcement Seminar.”

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