Kazakh and Tajik troops take on snipers, bombs in US-led exercise
By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 25, 2019
CHILIKEMER TRAINING AREA, Kazakhstan — The two snipers who fired at the Kazakh peacekeepers knew that their luck had run out.
One of them, dressed in green pajamas that didn’t fit, dropped his rifle and fled as two Humvees carrying Kazakh soldiers roared out onto the grassland steppe at the front gate of the base.
Unbeknownst to the two snipers, another group of Humvees had exited the rear of the base at the same time and wheeled around to flank.
Within five minutes, the two men were cut off, surrounded and captured.
The sniper attack and response were part of Steppe Eagle, a weeklong U.S. Army-led exercise in which more than 400 troops from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the U.K. and the U.S. are being trained in peacekeeping and stability operations.
A U.S. C-130 transport plane landed in Almaty ahead of the exercise, making it the first American military plane to fly into Kazakhstan in many years, U.S. officials said.
American and British troops taught their Kazakh and Tajik counterparts to respond to roadside bombs and search mock villages for weapons caches. Some U.S. and U.K. troops took part in the training themselves, while Kyrgyzstan sent medical staff and Turkey and Uzbekistan sent observers to the exercise.
Soldiers in the Kazakh Ground Forces peacekeeping battalion are using Steppe Eagle, which began last week and runs until Thursday, to prepare for an upcoming deployment to Lebanon, where troops from the Central Asian country have been part of the U.N. peacekeeping effort since last year.
“The Kazakhs want to be on the U.N.’s radar as a training center for others to use,” said Capt. Kevin O’Brien of the 34th Infantry Division, one of the trainers and planners for Steppe Eagle. “They’re using this to get there.”
Kazakhstan has been renovating its Chilikemer Training Area over the last several months, hoping that other countries in the region will send their troops here for peacekeeping training.
Kazakh Lt. Col. Bakhytzhan Zhetpissov, who helped plan the exercise, said one of its aims was to teach troops to follow the rules of engagement while on a peacekeeping mission.
Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping unit has grown over the years from a platoon to a battalion. A third company that was recently added to the battalion took part in Steppe Eagle, ahead of deploying to Lebanon.
Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping battalion in 2017 passed a certification that allowed it to participate in NATO operations, according to a U.S. Army statement from the time.
Exercises such as Steppe Eagle will help build the U.S. relationship with Kazakhstan, O’Brien said as he drove around training sites and told soldiers to throw more smoke bombs to ramp up the tension.
“Overall, we want to understand how well we can work with them, what they can bring to the table, for future events,” he said. “We don’t do missions with the Kazakhs, so let’s try this and see what happens.”
Soldiers with the Kazakh Ground Forces peacekeeping battalion lie flat on the ground as a soldier fires his weapon into the air to scare rioters as part of a training exercise between American, British and Kazakh troops June 24, 2019. The Steppe Eagle exercise at the Chilikemer Training Area outside of Almaty trained Kazakh troops before their United Nations mission to Lebanon in the fall.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES