BACKGROUND: Defense Minister Altynbayev at the time of the deployment made sure to note that Kazakhstan had received a message from the U.S. administration, explicitly requesting a Kazakhstani contingent as a part of coalition stabilization forces within the framework of operation Iraqi Freedom. The participation of Kazakhstan in peacekeeping and reconstruction process of Iraq, he argued, is part of ‘the state activity plan to ensure and consolidate regional and international security.’ Distinguishing the decision from the possibility of deploying peacekeepers to Afghanistan, Altynbayev presented the case that Kazakhstan responded to a clear and unambiguous request from the U.S. No doubt recollecting the concerns over sending peacekeepers abroad in 2002, he made clear that the servicemen would be experts in the area and that only volunteers would go to Iraq. It was likely, in his view, to include 3 interpreters, 8 officers and 14 (enlisted or NCOs) soldiers from Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping battalion (KAZBAT). Members of KAZBAT were tasked with humanitarian duties, including mine clearance and water purification, as part of the international division placed under Polish command. KAZBAT has conducted itself in a professional manner, proving itself capable of carrying out its designated tasks of water purification and military engineering activities. Four months into the first six-month deployment, sustaining no fatalities or injuries, KAZBAT has also established good relations with locals. Its success can be attested to in gaining sufficient trust amongst locals to receive information on the location of ordnance left over from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). The total cost of the deployment is expected to reach $98,000 in the first six months. The unit has cleared away more than 400,000 explosives and continues fulfilling successfully its missions. As Altynabyev once noted, in addition, the Detachment helps in solving another important problem: achieving interoperability.
Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping battalion was created on 31 January 2000. The battalion is an extremely complex organism, which continues to evolve as training, exercises and equipment improve in line with the officially stated policy of achieving NATO interoperability. Its development has been rapid and will continue to progress towards that goal.
The battalion itself is placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Zhanibek Sharipov and is located at Kapshagai, 70 km north of Almaty. KAZBAT is 100% staffed with professional personnel serving on contracts. These are drawn from the 35th air assault brigade (DShBr) based in Almaty. It has access to good quality training facilities, including airdrop ranges, firing ranges and an MOD linguistic centre. Within its structure, emphasis has been placed upon the formation of an NCO corps, providing enhanced leadership skills for the management of the battalion.
The United States has solidly supported the creation and professional development of Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping capabilities, reflected in its prioritizing KAZBAT in its five-year military cooperation plan signed with Kazakhstan in September 2003 and its ongoing estimation of the assistance to KAZBAT as a key foreign policy objective in the region. It is not surprising that the US has also been the lead provider of assistance and training for KAZBAT, sending its Special Forces (SF) 12 man A-teams to train the battalion. U.S. assistance has taken varied forms, through military-to-military training and assessment, exchange visits and joint exercises. As a result of an assessment of KAZBAT and its needs, Kazakhstan responded by developing the Enhanced International Peacekeeping Cooperation (EIPC) program, through which the U.S. will provide an anticipated $1 million in 2003. Two key U.S. assistance programs have played a critical part in supporting KAZBAT. The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Approximately 25-30 percent of IMET funding to Kazakhstan in 2002-2003 was orientated towards training specialists for KAZBAT. US military personnel were sent to Almaty in November 2003, training NCO members of KAZBAT. More officers serving in KAZBAT in future will have received training in NATO countries.
Bilateral programs between Kazakhstan and Turkey and the United Kingdom have broadly supported American-led engagement activities. Turkey has engaged in joint tactical exercises, and assigned a team of instructors to KAZBAT for several months and supplied equipment. The UK established the Self-Access Language Centre (SAC) in Kapshagai and has taken part in joint exercises, such as ‘Steppe Eagle’ in July 2003.
IMPLICATIONS: KAZBAT, despite its obvious success, will require continued systemic support and international assistance in order to help Kazakhstan realize its goal in making the battalion interoperable with NATO. NATO standardized equipment, including communications equipment, munitions and Highly Mobile Multi Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), will be an essential part of KAZBATs future development. Kazakhstan is currently working with U.S. CENTCOM to get their first eight HMMWVs in January or February, in order to send them to Iraq. International support could be widened to include France and Germany: the former has a bilateral military cooperation agreement with Kazakhstan, while the latter needs to develop further its security relationship with the country.
Any assistance given towards enhancing Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping capabilities will undoubtedly help, particularly if it promotes further training for members of KAZBAT. It also needs greater participation in international exercises, such as ‘Steppe Eagle’, that these become the norm rather than the result of singular and painstaking efforts. Key individuals within Kazakhstan’s MOD, such as Major-General Bulat Sembinov, have played an important role in furthering international cooperation aimed at supporting the advancement of Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping capabilities and will also do so in future. Such individuals will demonstrate the determination currently existing in the country to achieve genuine progress in these areas.
The battalion also suffers from top-heavy management, which can present its own unique problems. The percentage of officers to soldiers in KAZBAT currently stands at around 40 per cent —which does not facilitate individual initiative. In order to remedy these issues, the overall numbers of officers will have to be reduced, with continued focus on developing the NCOs, thus maximizing the efficient management of the battalion. A key challenge in improving the managerial efficiency of KAZBAT will be the acceptance of NCOs as leaders and junior managers.
CONCLUSIONS: Kazakhstan is also willing to expand KAZBAT in the near future, possibly to a brigade level. As it faces the challenge of seeking necessary UN involvement and enhancing the capabilities of its peacekeeping forces Kazakhstan will require deepened commitment from its friends abroad in the form of security assistance. Thus, as it makes its first tentative steps into the sphere of international peacekeeping, the challenge of promoting such activities in future will depend on the extent to which the western powers can help Kazakhstan meet these challenges.
AUTHORS’ BIO: Roger N. McDermott is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent at Canterbury (UK). Col. Igor Mukhamedov is Chief of Kazakhstan’s MOD Center for International Cooperation. He is currently studying for his Masters Degree (National Security) at Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, California.