DUSHANBE -- The joint military exercise that the US and Tajikistan conducted last week is the latest manifestation of the help that the US provides its Central Asian partner in the fight against terrorism.
From March 27 to April 7, about 100 Tajik and 150 US troops participated in drills that took place at various locations in Tajikistan.
Military co-operation with the US is key for Tajikistan, said Saifullo Safarov, first deputy director of the Strategic Research Centre under the President of Tajikistan.
"The US is helping Tajikistan in its fight against international terrorism, especially in Afghanistan," Safarov told Caravanserai. "Threats that come out of Afghanistan are also threats to the US. That's why we need to co-ordinate against the Afghan [threat]."
"We are unable to ensure our security without US co-operation," he dded.
The US is committed to help Tajikistan because both are members of the C5+1, a consortium of the US and the five Central Asian states that addresses challenges like terrorism, Dushanbe-based security analyst Abdumannon Azizov told Cararavanserai.
"Tajikistan has designated the fight against terrorism ... as a priority," said Azizov, noting that radicalisation of migrant workers and the build-up of Central Asian insurgents in Afghanistan near the Tajik border "are influencing the situation".
US trainers can bring Tajik military units up to US standards, he said.
Equipment is another avenue of potential US aid, he said.
"All of our military equipment is Soviet made," he said. "Given the situation in northern Afghan provinces, it would be beneficial if the US could ... provide military and technical support for border guards," he said.
Benefits of cooperation
Placed in a dangerous neighbourhood, Tajikistan needs all the help it can get, say observers.
Tajikistan co-operates with all countries to fight terrorism, Abdulkhalim Gafforov, an MP affiliated with the Socialist Party, told Caravanserai.
"We should take advantage of all opportunities [to co-operate]," he said. "Such co-operation is in the interests of security and national stability."
The US has provided more than $260 million (1.7 billion TJS) in security assistance in 25 years of full relations, Dushanbe-based regional security analyst Abdulmalik Kodirov told Caravanserai.
Tajikistan used those funds to build border check-points, transport and electrical systems and training grounds, as well as to conduct military training inside and outside the country, he said.
"Most of the money the US sends goes to preventing threats from Afghanistan," said Kodirov. "We also run programmes to fight drug trafficking. Tajikistan can't fight these threats alone."
He urged more Tajiks in the security sector to learn English.
"That will increase the number of Tajik experts who undergo counter-terrorism training in the US," he said.
Tajikistan chooses to have an open-door policy, which makes international co-operation necessary for its security, said Shokirjon Khakimov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party.
"There's no doubt that military co-operation, joint training sessions and joint projects will help us fight trans-national terrorism," he told Caravanserai. "We'll also be able to contribute to fighting international terrorism."
The recent training consisted of previously agreed-upon scenarios, a Tajik security official who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.
"Tajik soldiers worked with their American colleagues to develop counter-terrorism tactics," said the source. "They learned how to fight in close quarters with terrorists."
Co-operation with the US has been growing, remarked the source.
One sign of that tightening bond was the exchange of telegrammes between the countries' presidents in February to mark the 25th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, he added.
US President Donald Trump wrote of the countries' "common goals of regional security and stability" in his message, while Tajik President Emomali Rahmon cited his "optimism" about the course of future relations.
The exchange of telegrammes attests to shared interest in "security in Central Asia and in Afghanistan", the security sector source told Caravanserai.
The US is committed to ensuring regional stability and fighting terrorism, US embassy spokesman Jeff Ridenour told Caravanserai.
"We believe that expanding the Tajik armed forces' capabilities is an important step in achieving our goal of fighting terrorism," he said.
The two sides participated in scenarios that tested their crisis response, he said, adding that they had a primary goal of developing co-ordination against trans-national terrorism.
"Military-to-military engagements are intended to expand levels of co-operation, enhance mutual capabilities, and promote long-term regional stability and joint-operation," said the US embassy in a March statement before the exercises took place.