Global Policy Forum

Uzbek Ministries in Crackdown Received US Aid


By C. J. Chivers and Thom Shanker

New York Times
June 18, 2005

Uzbek law enforcement and security ministries implicated by witnesses in the deadly crackdown in the city of Andijon last month have for years received training and equipment from counterterrorism programs run by the United States, according to American officials and Congressional records. The security aid, provided by several United States agencies, has been intended in part to improve the abilities of soldiers and law enforcement officers from the Uzbek intelligence service, military and Ministry of Internal Affairs, the national law enforcement service. Besides equipment aid, at least hundreds of special forces soldiers and security officers, many of whom fight terrorism, have received training.

Witnesses and American officials say the Uzbek Army, law enforcement and intelligence service were all present at the crackdown. Among them was a special Internal Affairs counterterrorism unit known as Bars, which has two or three members who trained in a course sponsored by the State Department for crisis-response commanders in Louisiana in 2004, according to the State Department. It is not clear whether these specific officers were present in Andijon, although their unit was. Several United States officials said they had no evidence that any of the hundreds of individual troops or security officers with American training took part in the violence. At the same time, however, they said they were not certain that no American-trained personnel were present.

The uncertainty, officials said, is one reason an independent investigation of the violence is necessary. "Until Uzbek authorities allow an independent and credible investigation to occur, we cannot know who was responsible or was involved," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. The participation of ministries that have received American aid underscores the implicit gamble in giving security help to a repressive state. The United States has worked closely with Uzbekistan, a corrupt and autocratic state with a chilling human rights record, in the fight against international terrorism. It has also tried to professionalize the Uzbek military, improve its border security and help secure materials that could be used in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons - areas of engagement that American officials say are of clear national interest. But such policies can backfire, improving the martial abilities of units that commit crimes against Uzbek citizens, and associating the United States with repression in the eyes of Uzbek people and the Islamic world. Uzbekistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country with severe restrictions on freedoms of worship and expression.

Hundreds of civilians were killed when Uzbek forces fired into dense crowds on May 13, according to survivors and human rights organizations. The crackdown, which the Uzbek government has described as a counterterrorism operation, crushed an antigovernment rally that was prompted by an armed uprising and a prison break. As Western nations renew calls for an independent investigation, witnesses and American officials say one focus is on the actions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Survivors, diplomats and American officials have said in interviews that the ministry, run by Col. Gen. Zakirdzhon Almatov, provided principal units involved in the crackdown. General Almatov was present in Andijon on May 13, and he negotiated by telephone with Abdulzhon Parpiev, a leader of the uprising, according to a survivor who witnessed the conversations and a senior diplomat in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his posting in the repressive state, said General Almatov and President Islam A. Karimov coordinated the actions of Uzbek forces that day.

Among forces under General Almatov's command were two special counterterrorism units, Bars and Skorpion, according to survivors, a relative of one of Bars members, a Bars driver and several Uzbeks familiar with the crackdown, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety. American military officials say they have information that those units were present. Bars, which survivors said was particularly active, is thought to have at least 300 members. It has previously worked in the Fergana Valley, a region that guerrillas from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group with links to Al Qaeda, have raided in the past. Much else about the crackdown remains unknown. The full list of units present and names of their commanders have not been made public. Nor have the nature of orders and roles of specific units in the worst hours of violence and roundups. It is not publicly known whether the most lethal shooting was deliberate or the result of poor discipline, or both. But an examination of elements of the security aid by The New York Times has found that the United States has provided extensive aid to the ministries, and the types of units, that took part in the crackdown. The aid was not limited to the Pentagon's widely publicized assistance to the Uzbek military.

William C. Lambert, a retired Army officer who was the Central Asia desk officer for the United States Central Command in the late 1990's through 2000, before moving to Tashkent to manage a border security program with Uzbek forces, said there were many other means of providing aid, including aid to special interior ministry troops. "A myriad of other programs were authorized to work with them," he said. Mr. Lambert is now an assistant professor at the Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. State Department reports to Congress show that under a program managed by the department known as Anti-Terrorism Assistance, 18 Uzbek security officers flew to Louisiana last year to attend a Crisis Response Team-Tactical Commander course. Such classes typically train officers in techniques for confronting terrorist actions; among them were the two or three members of Bars.

An additional 12 Uzbek security officers, from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the general prosecutor's office received "antiterrorism instructor training" in 2003 in New Mexico. Such training typically prepares officers with tactics and techniques they then teach units at home. The officers who attended were part of the 150 Uzbek security officers trained that year, during which the United States' Anti-Terrorism Assistance program provided $2.2 million to Uzbekistan. "We provide antiterrorism assistance in Uzbekistan and elsewhere to help foreign police better address terrorist threats, and not for other purposes," Mr. Casey said. He noted that there were reliable accounts of the shooting of hundreds of people in Andijon. "There can be no excuse for this grave violation of the human rights of so many innocent Uzbek citizens," he said.

Since at least the mid-1990's, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and other American government agencies have provided training or nonlethal equipment to Uzbekistan. The equipment has included Humvees, jeeps, trucks, patrol boats, night-vision goggles, binoculars, two-way radios with encryption abilities, flak jackets, helmets, portable radiation detectors and more. The Pentagon has also sent Navy SEAL teams and Special Forces to Uzbekistan to train its military in tactics, marksmanship and patrolling, as well as in human rights and laws of war. Participants are vetted to ensure they have no history of human rights violations, the Pentagon said. A senior Defense Department official said the training had included an Uzbek special forces battalion.

The Pentagon, which uses an Uzbek air base to support operations in Afghanistan, has conducted an initial review of units present in Andijon, and said it had no information that personnel it trained had taken part in the crackdown. It also said it had not trained personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Drug Enforcement Agency has also been active, establishing an elite 25-member "sensitive investigation unit" in the ministry in 2003. There has been no public allegation that this unit was involved in the crackdown; the agency did not answer written questions about its cooperation with the ministry. Another American official said the Central Intelligence Agency had trained Uzbek intelligence service personnel, but not Internal Affairs Ministry security officers, including members of Bars or Skorpion.

In addition to the presence of Bars, which has American-trained personnel, there are other potential routes by which American-trained soldiers or law enforcement officers might have been involved. Pentagon officials acknowledge that there is personnel movement between the Uzbek Internal Affairs and Defense Ministries, and it is possible that Uzbeks who received American training in one unit could have taken part in the crackdown as member of other units or agencies. "You can't vet for life," a Pentagon official said. "We can only know these people up until the point at which they finish their training and move on, if they leave units that are part of our mil-to-mil cooperation."

Uzbekistan has resisted calls for an independent international investigation; its Internal Affairs and Defense Ministries did not reply to written requests for interviews about their actions in Andijon and relationships with the United States.

Mr. Chivers reported from Moscow and Kyrgyzstan for this article, and Mr. Shanker from Washington. Additional reporting was contributed by Ethan Wilensky-Lanford in Kyrgyzstan and Tashkent, and Alain Delaqueriere in New York.

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