MILITARY OF TURKMENISTAN

MILITARY OF TURKMENISTAN

Branches: Turkmen Armed Forces: Ground Forces, Navy, Air and Air Defense Forces (2013). Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 1,380,794; females age 16-49: 1,387,211 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 1,066,649; females age 16-49: 1,185,538 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 53,829; female: 52,988 (2010 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Information on defense spending in Turkmenistan is not known. In the early 2000s, Turkmenistan made significant increases in annual defense expenditures. Between 2003 and 2005, the defense budget increased from US$83 million to US$173 million. The military budget in 1995 was estimated to be US$61 million. [Source: Library of Congress]

There were no nuclear weapons in Turkmenistan in the Soviet era, and none today. Turkmenistan prides itself on its position of neutrality on international and foreign policy issues. The military is under the direct rule of the president. In the 1990s, Turkmenistan’s chief military policy-making body, the Supreme Defense Committee, consisted of the president, the ministers of defense and internal affairs, the chairman of the Supreme Court, the procurator general, and the leaders of the five provinces. Prior to the creation of the Turkmenistan Ministry of Defense in January 1992, the republic's military establishment fell under the command of the Turkestan Military District of the Soviet armed forces. In the early 2000s, when Turkmenistan was under the rule of President Saparmurat, there was some discussion promoting Niyazov from a general to the rank of marshal.

Military service age and obligation: 18-27 years of age for compulsory male military service; 2-year conscript service obligation; 20 years of age for voluntary service; males may enroll in military schools from age 15 (2015). =

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Turkmenistan inherited the largest armed force in Central Asia. However, since that time neutrality and isolationism have dominated Turkmenistan’s defense doctrine, and the armed forces have been neglected. After a gradual withdrawal of Russian commanders from Turkmenistani units in the 1990s, no Russian or other foreign troops remain in Turkmenistan. The armed forces depend on a high percentage of increasingly outmoded, Soviet-era equipment, however; in the 1990s, Russia provided re-supply of some military matériel. In 2006 the army had about 21,000 active personnel, the air force had 4,300, and the navy had 700. A coast guard has been in the planning stage since the mid-1990s. The military is believed to be a very corrupt organization. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

Military Doctrine and National Security in Turkmenistan

Neutrality and isolationism have dominated Turkmenistan’s defense doctrine, and the armed forces have been neglected. During the Soviet era, military planners regarded Turkmenistan as a crucial border region because of its proximity to Iran and other strategic areas such as the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Consequently, a large number of Soviet army troops were stationed in the republic, which was virtually closed to foreigners. Since independence and the formation of a national armed force, Turkmenistan has maintained a posture of neutrality and isolationism, while at the same time pursuing a bilateral military alliance with the Russian Federation. Russia continues to regard Turkmenistan as a key element in its sphere of military interests. For that reason, Russia has secured agreements for stationing border guards and air defense forces in Turkmenistan. Russia also supports the building of the national armed forces by providing training for officers and sharing force maintenance costs. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

President Niyazov acknowledged Russia's legitimate military interests in the region, stating that his country's security interests can be better served through cooperation with Russia than through participation in multinational military organizations. Membership in the latter contradicts its foreign policy of noninterference, as well as its military doctrine that the principal function of Turkmenistan's army is to protect the country from external aggression. Another military doctrine holds that local wars, border conflicts, and military buildups in adjacent countries are the main source of danger to Turkmenistan. *

Although Turkmenistan has no disputed borders, its doctrine is based on concerns about the civil conflicts in Tajikistan and the instability in northern Afghanistan, especially after the collapse of its pro-Soviet regime in 1989, as well as on traditional tensions with Iran. On the other hand, Turkmenistan's leadership completely discounts the fear that Islamic fundamentalism would spread from Iran into the republic, a prospect of low probability considering that Iranian fundamentalists adhere to the Shia branch of Islam, while the state-controlled Islam of Turkmenistan belongs to the Sunni branch. Traditional animosity between Turkmen and Iranians is also a reason for reaching this conclusion. *

Military Forces of Turkmenistan

The three branches of the Turkmen Armed Forces are the Ground Forces, Navy, Air and Air Defense Forces. In 2006 the army had about 21,000 active personnel, the air force had 4,300, and the navy had 700. A coast guard has been in the planning stage since the mid-1990s. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

In 2006 Turkmenistan’s army, posted in five military districts, had three active motorized rifle divisions, one artillery brigade, one multiple rocket launcher regiment, one antitank regiment, one engineer regiment, two surface-to-air missile brigades, and one independent air assault battalion. The air force had two aviation squadrons and one transport squadron. The main air force base is at Gyzylarbat. A small naval base operated from Turkmenbashi. **

Turkmenistan has three types of paramilitary forces: the border guard, the national guard, and the internal troops of the Ministry of National Security. The number of personnel in each is not known. Three new border guard units were formed in 2001. In the 1990s, about 5,000 personnel served in the Turkmenistan Border Guard, which at that time was commanded jointly by Turkmenistan and Russia. The border guards patrol the wild, mountainous Afghan and Iranian frontiers, which total 1,750 kilometers and are rated the most sensitive borders of the country. The guards have small arms and some armored personnel carriers; experts evaluate them as an effective border force. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007, 1996]

In the 1990s, the army consisted of one corps, including three motorized rifle divisions, one artillery brigade, one multiple rocket launcher regiment, one antitank regiment, three engineer regiments, one helicopter squadron, and signal, reconnaissance, and logistics support units. Air force includes four regiments, 175 combat aircraft; air defense force has two fighter regiments. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Development of the Turkmen Military

Of the 108,000 uniformed soldiers and officers and 300 units of the former Soviet armed forces that were in Turkmenistan in April 1992, shortly fater Turkmenistan became independent, nearly 50,000 personnel and thirty units were withdrawn or disbanded within the following year. By 1993 the republic's armed forces comprised around 34,000 active-duty personnel attached primarily to the army and air force. At that point, the reduced force operated 200 military units while seventy remained under Russian control. Turned over to Turkmenistan's command were one army corps directorate, two combined arms units stationed at Gushgy and Gyzylarbat, several air defense and air force aviation units, technical support and logistical units, and virtually all the armaments and other military property. The armed forces are divided into four branches: the army, air force, and border guards. The government has announced plans to establish a naval force on the Caspian Sea. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The army, which had been reduced to about 11,000 personnel by 1996, was organized into one corps headquarters, three motorized rifle divisions, one artillery brigade, one multiple rocket launcher regiment, one antitank regiment, one engineer brigade, and one independent helicopter squadron. There are also signal, reconnaissance, and logistics support units. The three motorized rifle divisions are based at Ashgabat, Gushgy, and Gyzylarbat. The army's inventory includes about 530 M-72 main battle tanks, 338 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 543 armored personnel carriers, 345 pieces of towed artillery, sixteen self-propelled guns, 114 multiple rocket launchers, sixty-three mortars, fifty-four antitank guns, and fifty air defense guns. *

In the 1990s, Turkmenistan's air force had four regiments with 2,000 men and 171 fighter and bomber aircraft, of which sixty-five are Su-17s. In 1994 the organization of the air force remained contingent on further negotiation on disposition and control of former Soviet units. Pending such negotiation, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation maintained one air force and one air defense group in Turkmenistan. In the meantime, air force readiness was hampered by the resignation of most Russian pilots in the early 1990s and a shortage of trained Turkmen pilots. The Border Guard Command was established in 1992 to replace the Soviet-era Central Asian Border Troops District of the Committee for State Security (KGB) of the Soviet Union.*

In the 1990s, all personnel except officers were conscripts. At that time the Turkmenistan army, included about 11,000 Turkmen personnel (under joint Turkmen-Russian control). About 12,000 Russian troops were also present in 1995. The Air Force had 2,000 men, plus substantial Russian force remaining in country pending final distribution. The coastal defense force was included in a multinational Caspian Flotilla. Border Guard, under joint Turkmen and Russian command. It had 5,000 personnel, mainly on the Afghan and Iranian borders.

Military Equipment in Turkmenistan

The armed forces depend on a high percentage of increasingly outmoded, Soviet-era equipment, however; in the 1990s, Russia provided re-supply of some military matériel. In 2006 much of Turkmenistan’s military equipment was Soviet- era matériel that was in storage. The army had 702 main battle tanks, 170 reconnaissance vehicles, 942 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 829 armored personnel carriers, 269 pieces of towed artillery, 40 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 97 mortars, 65 multiple rocket launchers, 100 antitank guided weapons, 72 antitank guns, and 70 antiaircraft guns. The air force had 89 fighter planes active, 200 fighter planes in storage, and 50 surface-to-air missiles. The naval force on the Caspian Sea had five boats. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007]

In the mid-1990s, Turkmenistan lacked adequate matériel and technical support for its armed forces. A protocol with the Russian Arms Company (Rosvooruzheniye) provided for delivery of much-needed arms to Turkmenistan's military in 1995-96 in return for natural gas. Under this agreement, Turkmenistan was to supply 6 billion cubic meters of gas annually to the Russian Natural Gas Company (Gazprom) for sale to industries that will fill arms orders for Turkmenistan. Rosvooruzheniye also was to transfer 30 percent of this revenue to hard-currency accounts in Turkmenistan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996]

Military Service and Training in Turkmenistan

Men are eligible for conscription at age 18. The period of active service is 24 months. Although Turkmenistan announced plans to end conscription in 2005, compulsory military service has proved an efficient way of limiting youth unemployment. Bribery of draft officials is common. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

The 1992 constitution provides for universal conscription of males for service in the national armed forces. The period of regular service is eighteen months for army draftees and one year for those with higher education. Draft deferments from active military duty are granted only to individuals involved in seasonal animal herding. A presidential decree of July 1992 allowed two-year alternative service at a state enterprise for conscripts in certain categories, but this decree was nullifed in December 1994. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Conditions of service seriously deteriorated in the years immediately following independence in 1991. Large numbers of Turkmen were absent without leave from units outside and within Turkmenistan, hazing and fighting on ethnic and regional grounds were common among conscripts, instances of insubordination and failure to comply with orders increased, and relations between the Russian officer corps and Turkmen troops were strained to the breaking point. In recent years, discipline has been strengthened somewhat by improved working conditions, amnesty for some cases of absence without leave, the removal of political organs from the armed services, and increased opportunities for service within Turkmenistan. In addition, legislation has improved pensions given to career personnel in the Ministry of Defense, the Committee for National Security, the Border Guard, and the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, when men reach the age of fifty-five and women the age of fifty. *

In the 1990s, all of the personnel except officers in the armed forces are conscripts, more than 90 percent of whom are Turkmen. By contrast, about 95 percent of the officer corps is made up of Slavs. After many Russian officers had left Turkmenistan under the negative conditions of the early 1990s, others were prevented from leaving by a September 1993 agreement giving Russian citizens the option of fulfilling their military obligation in Turkmenistan, swearing allegiance to either state, or transferring to any region of Russia after five years of service in Turkmenistan. *

In the 1990sm Turkmenistani officers were trained in military educational establishments of the Russian Federation's Ministry of Defense, while Russian officers in Turkmenistan train draftee sergeants and specialists. Some limited training was provided in the military faculty established at Turkmenistan State University. Turkmenistan sent about 300 of its officers to training schools in Turkey, but it declined an offer from Pakistan's general staff to provide officer training in Pakistani war colleges. *

Turkmenistan’s Military in the 1990s

The 1992 constitution provides that the republic shall maintain armed forces to defend state sovereignty and that military service for males is a universal obligation that prevails over other constitutional obligations. Turkmenistan's government is adamant about the need to develop and maintain strong, well-trained, and well-equipped armed forces to defend the country's independence. At the same time, it has stated that it will maintain a posture of "positive neutrality" in regard to national security. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the 1990s, under the agreement for shared command, the presidents of Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation act as joint commanders in chief. By agreement, troops under joint command could not act without the consent of both ministries of defense. *

Turkmenistan's dependence on the Russian Federation for security against aggressive neighbors, at least until the republic's armed forces become a viable deterrent, created tension with the foreign policy goal of remaining as independent as possible from Russia. These conflicting national security considerations explained the Niyazov government's implementation of a bilateral military alliance with Russia while at the same time refusing to commit itself to substantial participation in regional military agreements that possibly would alienate Iran.

Russia and Turkmenistan’s Foreign Military Relations

After a gradual withdrawal of Russian commanders from Turkmenistani units in the 1990s, no Russian or other foreign troops remain in Turkmenistan. A 1992 bilateral treaty named Russia as guarantor of Turkmenistan’s security and provided for command of the armed forces to gradually shift from Russian to Turkmenistani officers. That process concluded with the withdrawal of the last Russian border forces in 1999. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

In a move to balance Russian influence, Turkmenistan established an agreement for limited military cooperation with China in 1999. To maintain its neutrality, Turkmenistan consistently has refused to join multilateral military groupings of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although it participates in the Caspian Sea Flotilla with Russian and Kazakhstani naval forces. In late 2001, Turkmenistan allowed the passage of humanitarian but not military supplies for the U.S. campaign in neighboring Afghanistan. In the early 2000s, the United States provided equipment and training to Turkmenistani border guard personnel. **

External Threat: Although relations with neighboring Uzbekistan are strained, in 2006 Turkmenistan was under no credible military threat. Foreign Military Forces: No foreign military forces were stationed in Turkmenistan in 2006. Military Forces Abroad: No Turkmenistani military personnel were stationed abroad in 2006. **

When the Ministry of Defense was formed, most ethnic Turkmen appointees were former communist party and government officials, illustrating the lack of Turkmen senior officers. The first minister of defense, Lieutenant General Danatar Kopekov, had been chairman of the Turkmenistan State Security Committee. In 1994 the chief of staff and first deputy minister of defense was Major General Annamurat Soltanov, a career officer who had served in Cuba and Afghanistan; another deputy minister of defense, Major General Begdzhan Niyazov, had been a law enforcement administrator prior to his appointment. Russian commanders included Major General Viktor Zavarzin, chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Separate Combined-Arms Army of Turkmenistan, and commander of the Separate Combined-Arms Army of Turkmenistan and deputy minister of defense Lieutenant General Nikolay Kormil'tsev. Russian Major General Vladislav Shunevich served together with Turkmen Major General Akmurad Kabulov as joint commanders of the border troops in the Turkmen Border Guard. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Role of Russia and the CIS in the Turkmen Military in the 1990s

The Treaty on Joint Measures signed by Russia and Turkmenistan in July 1992 provided for the Russian Federation to act as guarantor of Turkmenistan's security and made former Soviet army units in the republic the basis of the new national armed forces. The treaty stipulated that, apart from border troops and air force and air defense units remaining under Russian control, the entire armed forces would be under joint command, which would gradually devolve to exclusive command by Turkmenistan over a period of ten years. For a transitional period of five years, Russia would provide logistical support and pay Turkmenistan for the right to maintain special installations, while Turkmenistan would bear the costs of housing, utilities, and administration. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Other agreements between the two countries in the early 1990s strengthened their military alliance. In August 1992, accord was reached on the deployment of Russian border troops in the republic for a five-year period, with an option to renew for another five years. In September 1993, Turkmenistan agreed to assume all costs of maintaining forces on its soil following a five-year period of shared financing. This agreement granted Russia the right to maintain air force and air defense systems with limited control by Turkmenistan. It addressed the continuing majority of Russians in the command structure by permitting Russian citizens to perform military duty in Turkmenistan and by making allowance for the training of Turkmenistani officers in Russian military schools. At the CIS summit held in Ashgabat in December 1993, the military alliance between the two countries was affirmed, and provisions were made for the participation of 2,000 Russian officers in Turkmenistan in the development of the national armed forces. *

Despite the Russian Federation's deep involvement in Turkmenistan's military and pressures to do so, Turkmenistan did not joined the CIS collective security agreement. However, regional conflicts have led Turkmenistan to deviate from its posture of avoiding multinational commitments. The republic joined Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in drawing up a draft agreement on joint border defense along the Amu Darya. In addition, Turkmenistan has indicated willingness to cooperate in limited ways in a CIS-sponsored Central Asian Zone that would integrate military units of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, part of Kyrgyzstan, and possibly Turkmenistan, and provide joint response in cases of aggression by a southern neighbor against any member. In May 1994, Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian member nation of the Partnership for Peace, the NATO initiative offering limited participation in the Western military alliance in return for participation in some NATO exercises. As a result, Turkmenistan has pursued the possibly of training its officers with the military cadre of NATO member nations. The Russian monopoly on military training was broken by a 1994 agreement by which Pakistan would train Turkmenistani air force cadets. *

Uzbek And Russian Troops Deployed on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Border

In 2005, a Turkmenistani exile website, citing residents of border areas, reported that troops from Russia and Uzbekistan were helping Turkmenistan guard its border against militant incursions from Afghanistan. According to the report on Chronicles of Turkmenistan, "residents of Afghan border villages have recently noticed the presence on Turkmen territory border units from Uzbekistan." And it added: "About a month ago military instructors from Russia also appeared on the border. Obviously, the Turkmen authorities appealed to the Russian leadership for help guarding the border with Afghanistan, a situation where, with the arrival of warm weather, has begun to heat up."[Source: Joshua Kucera, Eurasia.net, March 24, 2015 */*]

Joshua Kucera wrote on Eurasia.net, “Turkmenistan has been taking various aggressive steps to address the rise of Taliban and (some claim) ISIS units in the northern provinces of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan. Those steps reportedly include mobilizing reserve troops and carrying out incursions into Afghan territory. However, they have seemed to be trying to prosecute the fight on their own, without any other country's help. */*

“The report of Uzbekistani and Russian troops is obviously sketchy information, and there's nothing to corroborate it. But the news comes as Turkmenistan has begun to come under some public (and undoubtedly private) Russian cajoling to let Moscow help. Just last week, a top Russian security official complained about Ashgabat's refusal to cooperate with Moscow on Afghanistan security issues. */*

“Anyway, we're not likely to find out any time soon what's really going on on the border; Turkmenistan's government has been virtually silent about it and nearly all reporting has come from the Afghan side (where information is also quite sketchy). And even if the reports aren't true, it's an interesting little window into what locals think/hope/fear might be happening during these unprecedented events.” */*

Poor State of Turkmenistan Military

Joshua Kucera wrote on Eurasia.net, “Russian analyst Boris Savodyan, writing for the news site Regnum, argued last week that "in Turkmenistan's policy of strict neutrality there is not the corresponding military potential and the consolidation of the nation necessary for war. So it will ask for help everyone it can, first of all Russia, which is close to Ashgabat both territorially and mentally, many decades they lived together in one country, the USSR. So Russia will help, at least to maintain a buffer between itself and ISIS, and so the war doesn't spill over onto Russian territory." [Source: Joshua Kucera, Eurasia.net, March 24, 2015 */*]

“The Chronicles of Turkmenistan report echoes the claim about Turkmenistan's own troops being incapable of dealing with the threat on their own. According to one unnamed soldier who was recently deployed to the Afghan border, "all the training consists of is, two or three days of shooting at a test range just before they deploy. Before that, during their entire service, they shot only one time. 'And then they gave us three bullets each and we shot from a prone position.'"” */*

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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