American military exercises in Central Asia

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Rabi' al-Thani 23, 1419 1998-08-16


by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1419)

Displaying characteristic arrogance and imperial over-reach, the US not only sent its troops for exercises into Uzbekistan but also got such arch-rivals as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey to join in what were billed as Nato’s "Partnership for Peace" programme. More than 700 soldiers from Russia, Turkey, the US, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan conducted military exercises from September 22 to 28 at a training centre near Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. The exercises began on September 22 at the Chirchik training centre about 50 kilometres from Tashkent and ended six days later in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, a town near the Uzbek border. The troops were taught how to escort vehicles carrying humanitarian aid, help refugees and provide medical assistance, all under warlike conditions, colonel Sabir Ibragimov of the Uzbek army said. ‘These exercises carry a huge importance for Uzbekistan,’ he added without elaborating.

Why would there be warlike conditions and who would attack Uzbekistan to need protection from was not clear. Certainly, not Russia whose troops participated alongside the others. Armenia and Geogia are also ruled out as well as fellow Central Asian republics except Turkmenstan and Tajikistan, the only former Soviet Central Asian Republics that did not participate in the exercises. But Ashgabot’s relations with its neighbours are quite friendly. That leaves out Tajikistan, Iran and Afghanistan and of course, the nascent Islamic Movement in the region. Afghanistan is in the throes of a civil war and hardly in a position to threaten its northern neighbours despite the Taliban’s foolhardiness. Besides, the Taliban’s supporters - Pakistan, and beyond that the US - do not want their protege to go that far. The Americans would hardly be holding exercises in Uzbekistan only to unleash the Taliban upon them. The same applies to Tajikistan which has had a tenuous peace for about two years.

Iran and the Islamic Movement in the region are clearly the target of these exercises which were also held last year. Although this year’s troops were less numerous - 700 - compared with last year’s total of 1329, the fact that more countries were involved gives clue to their real purpose. Since putting on the mantle of the sole superpower, Uncle Sam has become quite arrogant. American generals and officials see behind the exercises a desire to demonstrate US military reach and to establish a strong political presence in a region that has quickly emerged as one of the most strategic and richest areas in the world in the few years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also, American officials have cited Iran, Afghanistan and even Kashmir as potential sources of trouble. By deft diplomatic and political footwork, Tehran has neutralised most of America’s moves in the region. Even the attempt to increase Turkish influence in order to keep Iran at bay has not worked. Turkey and Azerbaijan’s problems with Armenia have kept the Caucasus region simmering even if it has not erupted into open warfare. Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the Karabakh region barely six years ago. It is currently occupied by Armenian troops and Yerevan has refused to withdraw its troops from the enclave in the heart of Azerbaijan. Iran, on the other hand, has played the mediator’s role with considerable success.

But Nato’s "Partnership for Peace" is both misplaced and mischievous. Nato is not an alliance for peace. It is a relic of the cold war which is now being projected into Central Asia. Among the exercise participants, only the US and Turkey are Nato members. The others, especially Russia, have been pointedly kept out of Nato. It is unlikely that Central Asian republics will be invited to join either.

Nato, and indeed America’s pretensions for peace cannot be taken seriously. At the end of 1992, American ‘peacekeepers’ were sent to Somalia on a so-called humanitarian mission. The real purpose was to train US troops in urban warfare. American troopd slaughtered an estimated 30,000 Somali civilians before fleeing the country in the face of stiff resistance from guerrillas commanded by the late general Farah Aideed.

America’s mythical humanitarian mission in Uzbekistan and Central Asia would sound more credible if Uncle Sam were to send his troops to defend the victims of genocide in Kosova first. The predominantly Muslim province of Kosova is under the military onslaught of the Serbs but there has been little by way of any rescue plan or relief to the victims of Serbian genocide. Instead of preparing for any hypothetical relief missions, America’s energies would be better utilised to protect the real victims of aggression.

That, however, will not materialise. The Serbs are fellow Christians. US military power is only used against Muslims. And since the Kosovars are almost all Muslims, there is no chance that they will see American troops coming to their rescue.

Washington, however, aware of the Islamic potential in Central Asia, is playing on the fears of the rulers by emphasizing the threat of conflict. By highlighting its military reach, the US is attempting to bounce these rulers into accepting Uncle Sam’s protection - as the Gulf potentates, for instance, have done. The price for US protection, however, is as hefty as that exacted from oil-rich Arab dictators: the surrender of the mineral resources in the areas controlled by them, and, of course their soverignty.

But it seems that the Americans are unable to learn from past mistakes. It is precisely the kind of fraud they are now planning to spring on Muslim Central Asian countries that helped bring about the Islamic resistance they now see as the greatest strategic enemy of the west.

Muslimedia: August 16-31, 1998

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