Central Asia: February 27, 2003

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The Central Asian nations inherited the ramshackle Soviet era military system. In theory, every 18 year old male must serve two years in the military. But with the withdrawal of the extra money the central government poured into the military during Soviet times, the new Central Asian nations are left will ill-equipped and poorly supplied armed forces. Everything is in short supply, including uniforms and food. Also lacking is the Soviet era secret police to insure that the young men show up for service. Less than 20 percent of the conscripts show up for their two years of service. The others either pay a bribe (for an exemption) or flee the country to work in Russia or some other country for a few years. 

Faced with armed forces that are wasting away, some Central Asian nations are reforming. All believe that smaller, professional armed forces (as found in Britain and the US) are the way to go, but this requires a lot more money, which these nations either haven't got or are not willing to spend. Uzbekistan is trying to make conscript service less traumatic by cutting the service from 24 to 18 months. The Uzbeks are also attempting to stamp out the Soviet era custom of older recruits, and soldiers, brutally hazing the new recruits. This custom is a major turn off for guys eligible for conscription. The hazing often results in serious injury, and occasionally death. 

Tajikistan has taken another approach, accepting enormous amounts of aid from Russia (two divisions of Russian troops to help guard their Afghan border, and nearly two billion dollars from the US in the form of military aid. Both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are seeking to establish professional armies despite the money problems, for they see the Soviet era conscript army as unpopular and ineffective as well.

 

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