BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz clergy and officials are working to prevent extremists' recruitment of military personnel, who often lack religious knowledge and are on the frontline of the war against terrorism.
"It's precisely troops who are the most potentially vulnerable," Nurjigit Kadyrbekov, the chairman of the Bishkek-based NGO Iyman Foundation for the Development of Spiritual Culture, told Caravanserai.
Kyrgyzstan has not registered a single case of Kyrgyz soldiers joining extremist or terrorist groups. "However, we must not wait for terrorists and extremists to beat us to the punch," he said.
Extremists are especially interested in recruiting professional troops, said Bilal Saypiyev, head of the Dawah department at the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK).
"Soldiers have sound physical and military training," he told Caravanserai. "Extremists will do everything possible to recruit them. They often use religion as a tool for manipulation -- naturally, by completely distorting it."
Imparting religious knowledge among troops
"Military personnel should possess at least a minimum amount of religious knowledge, so they do not fall prey to the ideology of destructive forces," Saypiyev said.
The Iyman Foundation held a seminar on January 18 in Bishkek on combating extremism and terrorism for staff at the Kyrgyz State Border Service (GPS)'s central administration.
"Border guards are the first to encounter terrorists, so they need to know all the attributes of extremists and terrorists," Kadyrbekov said.
Lecturers from Iyman, DUMK and the Anti-Terrorism Centre at the Kyrgyz State National Security Committee (GKNB) ran the seminar.
"Our foundation put together a film for the soldiers called 'Not My War', which tells about the war in Syria, what is happening there and how terrorists are recruiting our people," Kadyrbekov said.
Anti-extremism seminars for the military began in Kyrgyzstan in 2016, and they served not only GPS troops but also those in the army and other Kyrgyz forces.
"From last year to this year, we have covered the entire commissioned officer corps at the [GPS]," he said "We visited the National Guard and different military units in the south, in Bishkek and at Manas International Airport."
"To our great joy, our military personnel can become educated in religion and learn about the tools and methods for fighting extremism and terrorism," Col. Talant Sabirov of the GPS told Caravanserai.
Countering an ideological war
"There is an ideological war going on in the world today, and we must stay ahead," Kadyrbekov said. "An ideological struggle is hard to fight with weapons [...] and we must oppose their weapons with our ideology."
"If someone does not understand [religion], he is very easy to manipulate," he said.
Kadyrbekov pointed to the case of Tajikistan's police special operations team commander Gulmurod Khalimov, who fled his homeland in 2015 and resurfaced as an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) commander in the Middle East.
"There's no guarantee that won't happen here," he said.
Religious education for the military is essential, said Erkin Kasymov, the Armed Forces General Staff's representative at the GKNB Anti-Terrorism Centre.
"Raising awareness among the public ... should be carried out regularly," he told Caravanserai.