MILITARY IN KYRGYZSTAN: WEAPONS, TROOPS, POLICY

MILITARY IN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan military branches: Ground Forces, Air Force (includes Air Defense Forces) (2013) Military service age and obligation: 18-27 years of age for compulsory or voluntary male military service in the Armed Forces or Interior Ministry; 1-year service obligation, with optional fee-based 3-year service in the callup mobilization reserve; women may volunteer at age 19; 16-17 years of age for military cadets, who cannot take part in military operations (2013). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

A) Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 1,456,881; females age 16-49: 1,470,317 (2010 est.). B) Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 1,119,224 females age 16-49: 1,257,263 (2010 est.). C) Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 56,606; female: 54,056 (2010 est.). =

Military expenditures: 3.74 percent of GDP (2011). = Since 1999 Kyrgyzstan’s defense budget has increased significantly, albeit from a very low starting point. Between 2003 and 2005, military expenditures increased from US$55.2 million to US$73.1 million. The military budget was estimated at US$13 million in 1995. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007, March 1996]

Kyrgyzstan has a ground force, national guard and air force but no navy. The army suffers from poor morale, low pay and inadequate equipment. There were no nuclear weapons in Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet Union era and there are none now. But in the Soviet era, Lake Issyk-Kul was used to test naval weapons such as torpedoes.

Military Policy in Kyrgyzstan

In the post-Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan has not developed an armed force of significant size, and it remains dependent on Russia in many aspects of national defense. Between terrorist attacks that occurred in 1999 and 2003, military spending increased by about 50 percent, but the armed forces did not grow significantly during that period. Ground forces constitute the main fighting element. In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s army had 8,500 active personnel, and its air force had 4,000 active personnel. Some 57,000 individuals were in military reserve status, and the paramilitary Border Guard Service had 5,000 troops. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Located in a region of low strategic importance and surrounded by nations with major concerns in other directions, Kyrgyzstan did not make developing its own armed forces a high priority after separation from the Soviet Union. The long-standing civil war in nearby Tajikistan, however, has forced reevaluation of that conservative position. Internal security has been a major concern because of rampant crime and a well-developed narcotics industry. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the early days of independence, Kyrgyzstani authorities spoke of doing without an army entirely. That idea since has been replaced by plans to create a standing conscripted army of about 5,000 troops, with reserves of two to three times that number. Kyrgyzstan has signed accords with both Uzbekistan and Kazakstan for joint air defense. Military activity has been limited to dealing with an Islamic fundamentalist group in the southern region of Batken; the group began fighting in August 1999. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996, everyculture.com]

Development of Kyrgyzstan’s Military Policy

In the early 1990s, Kyrgyzstan began to build a small armed force based on the military doctrine that Russia will remain chief guarantor of Kyrgyzstan's national security interests. The only operational branch of the armed forces was the ground forces. At one point Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev went as as far as suggesting that the military should abolished as a gesture to world peace. A National Guard with 600 troops was established in 1991. A draft was announced in April 1992. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kyrgyzstan made its first moves toward a national military force in September 1991, immediately after declaring independence, by drawing up plans to create a national guard. However, events overtook that plan, which was never realized. In the early months of independence, President Akayev was an avid supporter of a proposed "unified army" of the CIS, which would replace the former Soviet army. Those plans collapsed when Russia announced that it would not finance CIS troops. In April 1992, Kyrgyzstan formed a State Committee for Defense Affairs, and in June the republic took control of all troops on its soil (meaning remaining units of the former Soviet army). At that time, about 15,000 former Soviet soldiers of unknown ethnic identity remained in Kyrgyzstan. *

Although the Kyrgyzstani government did not demand a new oath of service until after adoption of the Law on Military Service (the first draft of which in 1992 was copied so hastily from Soviet law that it included provisions for a navy), the majority of the officer corps (mostly Russian) refused to serve in a Kyrgyzstani army, and since that time many Russian officers have sought repatriation to Russia. A more informal outflow of draftees already had been underway before Kyrgyzstan's independence. According to one estimate, as many as 6,000 Russians deserted from duty in Kyrgyzstan, although that loss was partially offset by the return of almost 2,000 Kyrgyz who had been serving in the Soviet army outside their republic. According to reports, in 1993 between 3,000 and 4,000 non-Kyrgyz soldiers, mostly Russians, remained in the republic. *

In 1994 Kyrgyzstan agreed to permit border troops of the Russian Army to assume the task of guarding Kyrgyzstan's border with China. This agreement followed Russia's complaints that continuing desertions by Kyrgyzstani border troops were leaving the former Soviet border--which Russia continues to argue is its proper border--essentially unguarded. Akayev has periodically pushed for even more Russian military presence in the republic, hinting broadly that if Russia is not interested in resuming control of the Soviet airbases in the republic, perhaps other powers, such as the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NATO), might be; however, the fact that Kyrgyzstan in early 1995 gave the last remnants of its Soviet-era air fleet to Uzbekistan in a debt swap suggests that neither Moscow nor Tashkent has taken such offers seriously. *

Russian Military Involvement in Central Asia

Large numbers of Soviet military forces were located in the five Central Asian republics when the Soviet Union dissolved officially at the end of 1991. All the newly independent states took measures to gain control over the Soviet units they inherited, establishing a variety of agencies and ministries to define the gradual process of localization. In the mid-1990s, as support grew in Russia for recapturing in some form the lost territories of the former Soviet Union, attention focused on the five Central Asian republics, which still had substantial economic and military ties with the Russian Federation. When the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, the main military force in Tajikistan was the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, whose position and resources the Russian Federation inherited. Although nominally neutral in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in the fall of 1992, the 201st Division, together with substantial forces from neighboring Uzbekistan, played a significant role in the recapture of the capital city, Dushanbe, by former communist forces. As the civil war continued in more remote regions of Tajikistan during the next three years, the 201st Division remained the dominant military force, joining with Russian border troops and a multinational group of "peace-keeping" troops (dominated by Russian and Uzbekistani forces and including troops from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan) to patrol the porous border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The openly avowed purpose of the continued occupation was to protect Russia's strategic interests. Those interests were defined as preventing radical Islamic politicization and the shipment of narcotics, both designated as serious menaces to Russia itself. Meanwhile, Tajikistan formed a small army of its own, of which about three-quarters of the officer corps were Russians in mid-1996. Tajikistan, having no air force, relied exclusively on Russian air power. In mid-1996 the preponderance of the estimated 16,500 troops guarding Tajikistan's borders belonged to Russia's Federal Border Service. Border troops received artillery and armor support from the 201st Division, whose strength was estimated in 1996 as at least 12,000 troops. *

Russia has kept more limited forces in the other Central Asian republics. Turkmenistan consistently has refused to join multilateral CIS military groupings, but Russia maintains joint command of the three motorized rifle divisions in the Turkmenistani army. Under a 1993 bilateral military cooperation treaty, some 2,000 Russian officers serve in Turkmenistan on contract, and border forces (about 5,000 in 1995) are under joint Russian and Turkmenistani command. Altogether, about 11,000 Russian troops remained in Turkmenistan in mid-1996. Uzbekistan has full command of its armed forces, although the air force is dominated by ethnic Russians and Russia provides extensive assistance in training, border patrols, and air defense. Kazakstan, which has the largest standing army (about 25,000 in 1996) of the Central Asian republics, had replaced most of the Russians in its command positions with Kazaks by 1995--mainly because a large part of the Russian officer corps transferred elsewhere in the early 1990s. No complete Russian units are stationed in Kazakstan, but an estimated 6,000 troops from the former Soviet 40th Army remained there in training positions in 1996, including about 1,500 at the Baykonur space launch center, which Russia leases from Kazakstan. *

In Kyrgyzstan, which has developed little military capability of its own, Russian units guard the border with China. But maintaining military influence in Kyrgyzstan has not been a high priority of Russian military planners; a 1994 bilateral agreement improves incentives for Russian officers to remain in the Kyrgyzstan's army on a contract basis through 1999, but, as in Kazakstan, the Russian exodus has continued. President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan lobbied for a larger Russian military presence to improve his country's security situation, but no action had been taken as of mid-1996. *

Command Structure of the Kyrgyzstan Military

The question of who would command Kyrgyzstan’s troops was troublesome issue in the early days of independence. Russian officers continued leaving Kyrgyzstan through 1993 because of low pay and poor living conditions, and in 1994 Moscow was officially encouraging this exodus. To stem the out-migration, agreements signed in 1994 by Bishkek and Moscow obligate Kyrgyzstan to pay housing and relocation costs for Russian officers who agree to serve in the Kyrgyzstani army until 1999. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Formally, the army is under the command of the president, in his role as commander in chief; the National Security Council is the chief agency of defense policy. Established in 1994, the National Security Council has seven members, not including the president, who is the chairman: the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the state secretary, the minister of internal affairs, the minister of defense, the chairman of the State Committee for National Security (successor to the Kyrgyzstan branch of the Committee for State Security--KGB), and the commander of the National Guard. The president appoints and dismisses senior military officers. President Akayev also has followed the formulation of defense policy quite closely. The Ministry of Defense has operational command of military units; General Myrzakan Subanov has been minister of defense since the agency was founded in 1992. The Ministry of Defense and the National Security Council are advised by the Center for Analysis, a research institution established in 1992. *

The chief of the General Staff, the second-ranking officer in the armed forces, is responsible for coordinating the National Security Council, the State Committee for National Security, the border troops, and civil defense. After 1993 that position has been occupied by General Feliks Kulov, a Kyrgyz. The General Staff, modeled after the Russian structure, includes the commanders of the National Guard, the ground forces, the air and air defense forces, and the internal forces. *

Major Military Units in Kyrgyzstan

In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s army had one motorized rifle division, two independent motorized rifle brigades, one air defense brigade, one antiaircraft artillery regiment, and three special forces battalions. The air force had one fighter regiment, one composite aviation regiment, and one helicopter regiment. Paramilitary forces included a border guard force of about 5,000. A nominal National Guard is manned by regular army personnel. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

In 1996 the Kyrgyzstani ground forces included 7,000 troops, which comprise one motorized rifle division with armor and artillery capability. Sapper and signals regiments are attached, as is a mountain infantry brigade. Headquarters is at Bishkek. Plans called for the ground forces to be restructured in 1995 into a corps of two motorized rifle brigades and for an airborne battalion to be added. In 1994 about 30 percent of the officer corps was Russian; the commander was General Valentin Luk'yanov, a Ukrainian. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1996, air and air defense forces were comprised of 4,000 troops and border guards were made up of about 2,000 troops. In terms of internal security: the State Committee for National Security, which replaced Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB), was responsible for intelligence and ran the National Guard (about 1,000 troops assigned as "palace guard") and border guards. Police (militia) system, unchanged from Soviet era, included 25,000 personnel under centralized command. *

Air Defense Forces and Border Guards in Kyrgyzstan

In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s air force had one fighter regiment, one composite aviation regiment, and one helicopter regiment. In 1996 it had one fighter, one training and one helicopter regiment. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996]

Because of expense and military doctrine, Kyrgyzstan has not developed its air capability; a large number of the MiG-21 interceptors that it borrowed from Russia were returned in 1993, although a number of former Soviet air bases remain available. In 1996 about 100 decommissioned MiG-21s remained in Kyrgyzstan, along with ninety-six L-39 trainers and sixty-five helicopters. The air defense forces have received aid from Russia, which has sent military advisory units to establish a defense system. Presently Kyrgyzstan has twenty-six SA-2 and SA-3 surface-to-air missiles in its air defense arsenal. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1992 a Kyrgyzstani command took over the republic's directorate of the KGB's Central Asian Border Troops District, which had about 2,000 mostly Russian troops. In late 1992, alarmed by the possibility of penetration of the border from Tajikistan and China, Russia established a joint Kyrgyzstani-Russian Border Troop Command, under Russian command. However, that force has been plagued with desertions by Kyrgyz troops, about 200 of whom fled to China in 1993. Border troop bases are located at Isfara, Naryn, and Karakol. *

Weapons and Military Equipment in Kyrgyzstan

In 2006 the Kyrgyzstan army had 215 main battle tanks, 30 reconnaissance vehicles, 387 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 63 armored personnel carriers, 141 pieces of towed artillery, 18 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 66 mortars, 21 multiple rocket launchers, 26 antitank guided weapons, 18 antitank guns, and 48 air defense guns. The air force had 48 combat aircraft and 9 attack and 23 support helicopters. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Major military units in 1996: Ground forces with one motorized rifle division with armor and artillery, attached sapper, signals, and mountain infantry units. Air force with one fighter, one training, one helicopter regiment. Manpower and weapon levels were still in the development stage, in 1995. At that time heavy reliance on Russian command and equipment was expected to continue indefinitely. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kyrgyzstan lost twelve IL-39 jets in March 1992, when they were "repatriated" to Russia from a training field near the capital, and the 1995 swap with Uzbekistan lost an unknown number of MiG-21 fighters and L-39C close-support aircraft. Available information from the 1990s suggested strongly that Kyrgyzstan, as the least militarized of the Central Asian republics, was incapable of defending itself against a military threat from any quarter. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the Soviet era, Lake Issyk-Kul was used to test weapons such as torpedoes. The idea was that the lake had some conditions comparable to that of the sea and the United States could not monitor what the Soviets were doing. Most of the facilities were located around Koy-Sary on the eastern end of the lake. Opium was also grown in this area and cannabis grows wild there as it does all around the lake. Russia has expressed interest in reopening a torpedo test range in the lake.

Military Service and Training in Kyrgyzstan

The minimum age for conscription or voluntary military service is 18, and the term of service is 18 months. Conscription eligibility continues until age 27. Since 2000 the military has moved from a conscription system to a mainly volunteer army, but pay failures have caused increased desertions. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Military service age and obligation: 18-27 years of age for compulsory or voluntary male military service in the Armed Forces or Interior Ministry; 1-year service obligation, with optional fee-based 3-year service in the callup mobilization reserve; women may volunteer at age 19; 16-17 years of age for military cadets, who cannot take part in military operations (2013). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Cadets and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) in the ground forces are trained at the Bishkek Military School, which played the same role in the Soviet era. Under a 1993 agreement, a small number of ground forces cadets study at Russian military schools, with the specific goal of bolstering the ethnic Kyrgyz officer corps. Small groups of Kyrgyz cadets also attend military schools in Uzbekistan and Turkey. Officers selected for higher commands attend a three-year course at Frunze Military Academy in Moscow and other Russian military academies. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

For the air force, the main training site is the Bishkek Aviation School, once a major center for training foreign air cadets but reduced in 1992 to a small contingent of mostly Kyrgyz cadets. In 1992 Kyrgyzstan had five training regiments using 430 aircraft, but that number was depleted by the mid-1990s. A 1994 agreement calls for some Kyrgyz pilots to attend air force schools in Russia. *

Foreign Military Relations and External Threats in Kyrgyzstan

Foreign Military Forces: In 2006 about 1,000 U.S. troops were stationed for the fifth year at Manas Airport as a supply point for U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. In 2006 about 300 Russian troops were stationed at Kant Air Force Base, but plans called for an increase to 750, and Russia has invested substantial funds in upgrading the facility. Russia has a 15-year extendable agreement at Kant. Military Forces Abroad: No Kyrgyzstani combat forces are stationed abroad; small observer groups are with United Nations forces in Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Russia operates four installations, including the Kant air base near the capital Bishkek and a naval test site at Lake Issyk Kul. In December 2012 Kyrgyzstan ratified a 15-year base lease deal with Russia, after Moscow agreed to write off some $500 million of Kyrgyz debt. The agreement can be automatically extended for five years after its expiry. [Source: Olga Dzyubenko, Reuters, June 3, 2014]

In the early 2000s, both the United States and Russia established bases in northwestern Kyrgyzstan (the United States at Manas in 2002 to support operations in Afghanistan, Russia at nearby Kant in 2003 under the Collective Security Treaty Organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States). The Kyrgyzstani government has tried to balance the competing military interests of those countries, and of neighboring China, in Central Asia. Because of the importance of that balance and under pressure from China and Russia, Kyrgyzstan has been reluctant to allow a permanent U.S. military presence. In 2006 tension over increased fees was reduced when the United States negotiated a new agreement paying Kyrgyzstan a reported US$150 million to continue using Manas. (Russia pays nothing to occupy its Kant base.) Russia and Kyrgyzstan conducted joint military exercises in the summer of 2006. **

No neighbor constitutes a conventional military threat to Kyrgyzstan. The porous southern and western borders, however, have allowed terrorist groups to enter and occupy southwestern Kyrgyzstan from the Fergana Valley and Tajikistan. Events in 2006 caused speculation about a possible resurgence of the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in that area. As of 2006, membership in the security-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization had not materially improved Kyrgyzstan’s border security. A bilateral border treaty with China has improved security to the east. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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