While U.S. Negotiated Over Manas, Pentagon Intensified Kyrgyzstan Special Forces Training
The United States significantly stepped up its training of Kyrgyzstan's special forces in 2013, as Washington was trying to convince Bishkek to allow its air base to remain in the country.
The U.S. trained 1,024 troops from Kyrgyzstan in fiscal year 2013 (that is, the year beginning October 1, 2012), up from 345 the year before. Of those, 880 were special forces troops which took part in six-week training courses led by their American special forces counterparts, documents newly released by the U.S. State Department show.
According to the annual report (pdf), on “Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest,” the Kyrgyzstan forces trained appeared to be mixed groups taken from various special forces units including the Alphas and Borus from the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) and the Scorpions, Panthers, and Ilbirs from the Ministry of Defense. The special forces training cost $2.6 million and was funded by Section 1004, under which the Department of Defense finances counter-drug activities around the world. They were trained in four six-week periods beginning in October 2012 and ending August 31, 2013.
U.S. officials have consistently denied that their security cooperation programs in Central Asia are linked to gaining regional governments' support for the Afghanistan military mission. But the timing of these programs are certainly suggestive of such a connection.
During the period of stepped-up special forces training, the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan governments were negotiating over extending the presence of the Manas air base outside Bishkek, which served as a transit center for allied troops going in and out of Afghanistan, as well as as a base for refueling aircraft servicing military aircraft flying missions in Afghanistan. Although Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev repeatedly said he wanted the base gone, the American side believed he could be brought around (though it still hasn't emerged what terms they were offering to Bishkek).
In October 2013, the Pentagon formally announced that it would close Manas down (though it apparently knew the base would be closed as early as August). The base formally closed in February 2014 and its missions are now carried out at a new facility in Romania. In July 2014, a Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Defense official complained that the U.S. had curtailed its military cooperation with Kyrgyzstan after the closure of the base.
In 2012, the U.S. markedly increased its special forces training both in Kyrgyztsan and Tajikistan. But while Kyrgyzstan's training grew even more over 2013, in Tajikistan the aid was cut back. Tajikistan remained the second-largest training program in the region; 425 soldiers of its soldiers were trained in 2013. Of those, 155 were GKNB Alpha special forces trained under Section 1004. The year before, the U.S. trained 411 Tajikistani special forces.
In every country in the Caucasus and Central Asia other than Kyrgyzstan, the number of troops trained by the U.S. fell from 2012 to 2013, according to an analysis of the data by Security Assistance Monitor.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.
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