TASHKENT -- Military exercises in Uzbekistan this month represent the country's latest effort to ready its security forces to counter modern threats, including terrorists and illegal armed groups.
The Ministry of Defence, the Interior Ministry (MVD), Border Service, the National Guard, the Customs Committee and the Ministry of Emergency Situations held the drills April 9-13 in the Eastern Military District in the Fergana Valley.
"The troops worked out a series of actions to prevent the destabilisation of the region and to ensure public order in the border areas," the press office of the Uzbek Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The forces involved were brought to the highest level of combat readiness during the exercises, it said.
"I think that attention to the Fergana Valley is not accidental," Uzbek political analyst Umid Asatullayev told Caravanserai. "After all, it is here where the density of population is the highest, and the local people are quite conservative and religious."
"This is where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU] originated, although it has long been destroyed," Asatullayev added, referring to a terrorist group that once operated in the region. "There are many enclaves and exclaves, which sometimes become a place of conflict."
The latest exercise came after Uzbekistan conducted its largest military drills in its history last November in a sign of continuing reforms.
"In a short period, the structure of military units was completely overhauled and inefficient and duplicate units were eliminated," President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said when he reported the results of the exercise to Uzbekistan's Security Council after the drills in November.
"As a result, the cost of supporting the troops has decreased," he added.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's military is continuing to work with its neighbours and gain international experience.
Last July, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan held the Steppe Freedom joint exercise, which saw the special forces of the two countries working together against a simulated militant group.
"The joint exercises showed the full co-ordination and mutual understanding of our special units," Abdusalom Azizov, the then-defence minister of Uzbekistan, said at the time.
Last September, Uzbekistan also held its first joint exercises with Tajikistan at the Chorukhdaron Training Grounds in Tajikistan.
During the three-day exercise, counter-terrorism units from both countries simulated the elimination of a hypothetical terrorist group that had entered one of their territories.
"It was really a historic exercise, a symbol of regional co-operation," said Asatullayev the analyst.
"Five years ago, during the days of Uzbek President [Islam] Karimov, a visit by Uzbek soldiers to Tajikistan was unimaginable because of the 'cold war' between the countries," he said. "Now, all this is in the past, and a new era has begun."
Along with conducting operations with its neighbours, Uzbekistan also plans to perform exercises with international partners.
Uzbekistan, Turkey and Pakistan are conducting a joint military drill April 22-27 in Jizzakh Province, according to the Uzbek Defence Ministry. The purpose of the exercise is to enhance practical skills and exchange experience.
Co-operation with the United States
At the same time, Uzbekistan is fostering co-operation with the United States, which is providing assistance to modernise the Uzbek military.
Last November, Azizov called the United States "a reliable and time-tested partner".
In January, Uzbek troops for the first time took part in special-forces military exercises in the United States with the US National Guard at Camp Shelby and at a training centre in Gulfport -- both in the state of Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the US Department of State's Anti-terrorism Assistance Programme organised training in April for 13 participants from the Uzbek MVD.
For two weeks, the police officers studied methods of countering terrorists, including "identifying potential sources of information, utilising surveillance, understanding terrorist and organised crime group financing methods, investigating a terrorist event, [and] interviewing suspects and witnesses", according to a US embassy statement.
The participants received a certificate from US Charge d'Affaires Alan Meltzer.
"The United States greatly values Uzbekistan's increasingly important role in maintaining regional stability, safety, and security," Meltzer said at the graduation ceremony on April 16, according to the US embassy.
"We are committed to growing our co-operation with Uzbekistan to counter genuine transnational security threats -- including terrorism -- to ensure a secure and prosperous future for both our nations," he said.