The Shanghai Cooperation Organization held its annual military exercises last week in Kazakhstan, and from what we can tell from the official statements about the exercise, it represented a continuation of the trend toward a lessening of the organization's military importance.
The scenario of the exercise, which was held in Shymkent, was a pretty typical one, reports China Radio International:
The drill stimulates a situation where terrorists enter Kazakhstan by helicopters and automobiles, hijack hostages in a bordering village and attempt to conduct terrorist activities.
The mission is for counter forces from SCO member countries to crack down on the terrorist group and rescue hostages through both ground and aerial operations.
The Voice of Russia went into a little more detail:
MiG-29 fighters forced a plane which had illegally infiltrated Kazakhstan's air space to land. Then, they showed witnesses at attempt to seize a reinforced checkpoint. And then, airborne forces neutralized a group of terrorists. In addition, the special forces demonstrated the storming of a house in which criminals held hostages. On the order to release the hostages, the terrorists responded with fire.
Armed forces and armored personnel carriers went to the site of battle. Aviation supported the ground attack. At the same time wounded security forces were evacuated. The special forces used flash-bang grenades. They freed the hostages and captured the hostages as they tried to escape.
Nurtay Abykayev, the chairman of Kazakhstan's security council, said "Of course the scenario is possible. A terrorist is a terrorist. He can be armed with any weapon, so we need to work comprehensively."
It appeared that only Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan took part in the exercise, with other member states (China, Russia, Uzbekistan) observing. And the SCO didn't announce how many soldiers took part, a departure from recent practice (last year's exercise included 2,000 troops). "This year the drill is not massive in scale,” acknowledged Wang Baofu, a professor from the PLA's National Defense University. But Wang tied the scenario to the all-purpose Central Asia bugaboo: Afghanistan spillover.
"We know that the situation in Afghanistan is facing a critical point with unclear prospects, as the Taliban and NATO forces are taking undergoing fierce combats in important locations. Additionally, terrorists inside Afghanistan are operating rapidly. All these factors pose threats to these central Asian countries."
And Abykayev echoed that threat:
"The time is such that, after the Afghanistan events, when international forces leave there, these kinds of events can happen on our territory."
Despite the tough words, the small turnout for this year's event seems to dovetail with an increasingly economic emphasis of the SCO. In the event that something does spill over from Afghanistan, it doesn't seem likely that the SCO will be a very active player in dealing with it.