https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2017/03/31/feature-01
| Security

Joint Tajik-US military training strengthens bilateral relations

By Nadin Bahrom

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Tajik army paratroopers march during a ceremony marking a US handover of military equipment to Tajikistan in Dushanbe August 18. [Nadin Bahrom]

DUSHANBE -- Tajik and US troops are making clear their determination to combat transnational terrorism and boost law enforcement capabilities.

About 100 Tajik and 150 US troops are holding joint exercises in Tajikistan from March 27 through April 7 to sharpen their terrorism-fighting skills.

The troops are rehearsing "simulated scenarios to facilitate a co-ordinated partner response to transnational terrorism", the US Embassy in Dushanbe said in a statement.

A number of Tajik military and security forces are participating in the drill, according to Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesperson Umarjon Emomali. They include the National Guard's Centre against Fighting Terrorism and Drug Trafficking and the MVD's riot police, known as OMON.

The crisis response exercises, which include "simulated firefights, paintball and theoretical assignments", are part of a series of joint training events planned by the US Embassy, Emomali told Caravanserai.

The majority of the exercises will take place "at military training areas throughout Tajikistan", the US Embassy said in a statement. "A small portion will take place at other locations approved by the Government of Tajikistan."

Long-standing co-operation

The exercises are meant to "boost OMON's ability to respond to emergencies", US Embassy spokesman Jeff Ridenour told Caravanserai.

"This exercise is part of our planned military-to-military co-operation plan for 2017 and is part of a series of recurring exercises," he said. "We are confident that both sides will learn a great deal from each other, as well as strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two countries."

Since Tajikistan and the United States established diplomatic ties 25 years ago, security co-operation has been extensive.

"This is military diplomacy," Parviz Rasulov of Dushanbe, a retired Interior Ministry (MVD) colonel, told Caravanserai. "The Americans have helped us for many years now."

"I've always felt positive about military co-operation between Tajikistan and other countries," Makhdi Sobir of Dushanbe, a veteran and an analyst of military matters, told Caravanserai. "Tajikistan should engage the US in military co-operation and take the co-operation to the next level when possible."

When the newly independent Tajikistan was struggling to build its military, after the Russian army hauled away "everything important that it owned", the US "played a particularly key role in building outposts on the southern border", he recalled. "It provided our border guards with vehicles and other equipment."

US assistance to Tajikistan since 1992 has totaled $1.8 billion (14.7 billion TJS), including $262 million (2.1 billion TJS) earmarked for security, according to a March 20 US Embassy statement.

Additionally, between 2012 and 2015, the US military provided countering narcotics training to more than 1,450 Tajik law enforcement personnel, according to the Security Assistance Monitor website.

Tajiks welcome co-operation

Tajik analysts and ordinary citizens welcome the joint training, which comes against the backdrop of a multi-decade insurgency in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are trying to gain control of nearby Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, US Army Gen. Joseph Votel said in a March 9 statement.

The fight against terrorism promotes democratic values and helps smooth bilateral relations, political scientist Shokirjon Khakimov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, told Caravanserai.

"The US should show that it is interested in strengthening regional security and ... if needed, aid in fighting threats and challenges," he said.

Tajikistan's military can use all forms of assistance, Dushanbe-based political analyst Ravshan Abdulloyev told Caravanserai.

"Tajikistan's army, like its border forces, was built from scratch," he said. "Any support in raising its potential is ... badly needed."

"We mustn't forget that Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan," Shukhrat Sharipov, a Dushanbe-based specialist on Afghanistan, told Caravanserai. "Fifteen thousand militants have already massed along the border [in Afghanistan]. That's why any training and skills benefit Tajikistan."

Members of the general public are welcoming the benefits of the exercises as well.

"We see what's happening in Syria and Iraq and know what kind of forces are based in Afghanistan," Dushanbe resident Shodi Safarov told Caravanserai. "Only a narrow river divides us [from Afghanistan]. That's why we have to be vigilant and our security forces have to be well trained."

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