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Kazakh special forces boost combat capabilities

By Alexander Bogatik

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Kazakhstani special forces June 23 in Karaganda Province participate in the Golden Owl International Competition's sniper event. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Snipers serving in special forces around the world showed off their skills at the Golden Owl international competition, which took place in Karaganda Province June 20-24.

Seven countries were represented, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. They included Kazakhstan, Great Britain, Pakistan and Belarus.

"Kazakhstani special forces ... were the overall champions," the ministry said.

Special force training has taken on urgency for Kazakhstan as it battles extremism.

Hundreds of radicalised citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq since 2011 to join the militants.

Within the country, violent episodes have alarmed the government and public.

On July 18, gunmen in Almaty killed three police officers and a civilian. Authorities arrested one suspect and were pursuing another at press time.

On June 5, a gang of extremists attacked two gun stores and a military base in Aktobe, killing seven civilians and troops. Authorities killed 18 attackers in the next few days.

Well-trained special forces will deny terrorists the ability to operate in Kazakhstan, authorities hope.

At the contest

The Golden Owl contest contained three events: marksmanship, defusing of explosives, and sniper pair competitions. Special forces troops fired at targets from various distances and took part in a race that combined orienteering and target shooting.

"What makes these competitions different is that the participants came with their weapons and equipment," army Col. Ravil Januzakov, the chief judge, told Central Asia Online. "That rule levelled the playing field."

In one demanding competition, defusing an explosive device, snipers had to shoot out a wire connected to a hypothetical bomb.

"The competition had several goals," the Defence Ministry press office told Central Asia Online. "They included improving snipers' skills, identifying their skills in shooting and in the field, and determining their ability to withstand intense psychological and physical strains."

On the front line in the fight against terrorism

Kazakhstan has several special forces that work non-stop to protect the country.

They operate under the Interior Ministry (MVD), National Security Committee (KNB), National Guard and State Protection Service.

Their roles include fighting terrorism, rescuing hostages, apprehending armed and dangerous criminals, and guarding vital installations.

The special forces include Sunkar and Arlan, both part of the MVD; Kokjal and Kalkan, both part of the State Protection Service; Burkit (National Guard); Arystan (KNB); and a number of Defence Ministry units.

Regular exercises

To keep their skills sharp, Kazakhstani special forces regularly participate in counter-terrorism exercises at home and abroad. Kazakhstan sent two special force teams to the 11-country 8th Annual Warrior Competition in Jordan in May, according to the tournament's website.

"Kazakhstani soldiers ... won medals in two events [in Jordan]," the Defence Ministry press office told Central Asia Online. "They won first place in storming an aircraft and third in completing an obstacle course and shooting automatic weapons."

Closer to home, 150 special force troops participated in the Qaisar counter-terrorism exercise in Almaty Province April 29. They rehearsed saving hostages and destroying terrorist groups.

A modern training centre

Special forces all undergo training at the MVD Centre for Combat and Methodological Training of Special Forces Units. Troops already use the centre near Zarechnii village, Almaty Province, even though completion of construction is expected by the end of 2016.

The cutting-edge, 208ha centre "has no equivalent in other countries in the region", according to the Almaty city government.

The national government allocated 6 billion KZT (US $18m) for construction, which began in 2014.

Facilities include "virtual shooting ranges ... and a multi-storey building that soldiers can practice storming", Col. Mukhotmetkali Satov, deputy commander of the National Guard, told Central Asia Online. "Two thousand soldiers can train at the same time."

No country is guaranteed safe from terrorism, Satov said, adding that it is essential to be prepared.

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