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Could Kazakhstan's security forces cope with the threat?
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, 08 2011

Could Kazakhstan's security forces cope with the threat of real militants?

The clashes between police and members of religious groups in the Aktobe region seem to have caught the Interior Ministry security forces unawares. Roundtable participants on Azattyk radio say that security force losses were due to the fact that Interior Ministry soldiers only have experience with fighting civilians.

The events last April in Almaty, when 11commandos fromthe

This topic will be discussed on Radio Azattyk at a roundtable with the participation of: Oraz Nurdilda Press Secretary and chief of the department of state language development, information, and international cooperation at the Interior Ministry; Amirbek Togusov Major General and former vice-minister of defense; Arat Narmambetov retired colonel of the KNB (Kazakhstan State Security).

Interviewed separately was former deputy chairman of the KNB and founder of Kazakhstan's commando units “Alpha” and “Arystan”, Boltat Ashikbayev, now deputy director of the company Kazatomprom. Dueto his absence from Kazakhstan, he expressed his opinions in advance.

Roundtable moderator was Sultan-Khan Akkulyuly of Radio Azattyk.

“Sunkar” commando unit were killed trying to capture 3extremists holed up in an apartment, as well as bombings in Aktobe and Astana, and continued fighting in the Aktobe region what does this tell us? Arethe law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan, including commando units such as “Arlan”, “Sunkar” and the like up to such emergencies?


Moderator: Why have the armed forces of Kazakhstan, as represented by the Interior Ministry and its special units, for so long been unable to locate or eliminate resistance from the unknown armed group in the Aktobe region?

(Press Secretary) Nurdilda: After independence, starting in 1996, Kazakhstan established three special operations units. There is, firstly, the

As for the events in Almaty and Aktobe and ongoing operations there, Ican say this: the criminals attacked so unexpectedly that our special operations unit could not to take any preventative measures to stop the crime. Thecriminals were hidden and firing from windows and other places, and they attacked so unexpectedly that our soldiers did not even have time to draw their weapons.

So Iwould like to say regarding this that we, perhaps, are not quite ready for just such events. Prior to this, we did not think that it could happen here, perhaps a terrorist attack, but some threat from outside. These were all criminal acts committed in peacetime. Welost so many members from our special operations unit. Nowwe are building on that experience and spend most of our time training in the event of such a large threat. But, Ithink, Icannot say that our training is low-level.

Moderator: Mr. Narmambetov, why did the government forces take such significant losses? Aresuch losses against an unknown armed resistance group normal?

(Retired KNB Colonel) Narmambetov: Firstly, all these special units “Sunkar”, “Berkut”, “Arlan” these are not military units, but special operations units. Shubarshi and Kenkiyak, these are not some Vietnamese villages and units like “Arlan” are not the U.S.Marines, so the number of burned huts and dead people or extremists does not measure theirskill.

. 30 2011
Here the first criterion should be to prevent losses on our side. Onthe other hand, wiping out these people in entirety is also probably not a good idea. Theyprobably should have started some kind of negotiating with these people, and if this failed, it would then be necessary to undertake something to prevent casualties, but bombing buildings from above so that the whole village goes into hiding

I think all this reflects a lack of skill within these units. Weare basically used to working at window dressing. Whenthese special units are shown on TV, one can see that it is all fake and just for parades.

These special units should have a greater emphasis on operational work to prevent such an event, and approach targets surgically. Iwas involved in working on such things and Iknow the subject, so Ispeak on it. Iwas a part of another irregular group, “Alpha”, for 10years, and in such cases they do not prolong things so that fighting goes on all day, and they do not approach the target until the last, crucial stage to capture it. Itshould have only taken seconds to go out and capture of these people without taking casualties.

(Former Vice Defense Minister) Togusov: Taking part in our discussion is an expert in state language and information, and he speaks about the relationship of the Interior Ministry and other law enforcement organs to special units designed to perform just such tasks. Thepeople expect an explanation and hope that, in such dangerous situations, Interior Ministry special units are always ready to defend ordinary people. Unfortunately, we have not heard that today, so Ido not even know what questions to ask this specialist.

How did such a thing happen in such a densely populated district of Almaty? Havethey ever carried out such an operation before? Ifyes, then why is it so poorly done? Whowas responsible? Whocarried it out? Whydid special units carrying the name “Spetsnaz” units whose very purpose suggests that these are supposedly men that are highly prepared for just such situations carry it out so ineptly, so stupidly?

Why was it that during the special operation in the Aktobe region that they did not use any non-lethal special measures that could have acted remotely on the offenders, such as electromagnetic radiation, acoustic waves of different frequencies, or new types of chemical weapons, especially on that blockaded building? Realexperts do this elementarily. Whyhas the Interior Ministry not yet explained that there really are not any special operations units, or why they work so poorly? Whatshould they havedone?

They should have called on real Spetsnaz veterans who could have come and told them how to do it. Itwas an elementary operation that should have been carried out even by local police forces from the Aktobe region that have the same average level of preparedness.

The attitude of the Interior Ministry and the training of these special units shock me. Iwould like to know about the commanders who “put these people on the line”, were they sacked? Theyshould be prosecuted for such a worthless operation, for the fact that people died. Iabsolutely do not understand the actions of these units, it was as if they were in some occupied territory, working according to some “take no prisoners, wipe them all out” basis. Whyis this going on? Iwould like to hearthis.


Moderator: Mr. Narmambetov, is it possible that terrorists are preparing suicide bombers for attacks in Kazakhstan, based of the case of the young man blowing himself up in the Aktobe regional KNB? Former Interior Minister Kairbek Suleimenov believes that this is possible. Whatdo youthink?

(Retired KNB Colonel) Narmambetov: Ibelieve that it is possible. Ihave evaluated every event in recent times that had a religious, extremist characteristic. These are not isolated events. These are, shall we say, quantitative indicators that have been growing in recent years and now, sad to say, are moving to a new level. Thefact that it started in Aktobe, well, it had to start somewhere. These tendencies, Ithink, exist in every region of our Kazakhstan.

. 17 2011
Working with such a contingent is a very delicate matter. Ourpolitical leaders and clergy should do this, while the security services should have specific work with this contingent. Notsome spur of the moment, as they say, grabbing the sword and chopping everything on the right and left without exception. Thisis not a political opposition movement, nor some civic organization. These people can resist and, as we see, are resisting, with armed force. Weall need to think about this, and conduct very thorough and extensive work in this direction.

Moderator: Who are these people who have for a rather long time been fighting the Interior Ministry forces? Arethey bandits, a religious extremist group, or a criminal gang? Howare they are armed, and how are Interior Ministry units equipped?

(Press Secretary) Nurdilda: All the criminals in Kenkiyak in the Aktobe region hid behind religion, behind God, but they stole oil by the ton and caused widespread panic among the populace. Allof them were members of a criminal organization. Ican rightly declare them guilty of committing crimes. Thiscase is currently under criminal investigation and being overseen by the Prosecutor General himself. Whenever we have information, we try to accurately and objectively convey it to the public.

The whole criminal gang was armed with hunting weapons and guns for shooting rubber bullets. Weare checking these out. Weare finding out where these guns were registered. Thetraining of our special units, Ican say, is at a high level. Ourfighters have all necessary weapons at their disposal.

(Former Vice Defense Minister) Togusov: We already knew that these poor people were armed with hunting rifles and rubber bullets. Irecently read a report by the deputy interior minister of Russia, and he writes that Russian special operations units conducted 25,000 operations in six months, disarming and arresting 160armed groups, more than 500armed criminals. Atthe same time they lost only 15men and had 25wounded. Wehad two operations and took losses as if there had been 25thousand. Thisspeaks of the catastrophic situation of our commandos.

We need serious, crucial action at the governmental level to deal with this problem. Nurdilda said that allegedly they did not have time to grab for their guns. Whynot equip them with that modern Czech pistol that works according to the principle of “point and shoot?” There are now special Israeli rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons that shoot around corners. Doour special units have any such weapons? Nowexplain about shrapnel and so on. There is, after all, special protective clothing for such operations. Whatare we talking abouthere?

Now, as to what kind of people we are dealing with, for some reason in all cases they cubby hole them into religious extremism. Where is this religious extremism coming from? Today, Ithink in Kazakhstan what is very relevant is social extremism. Whatis extremism? Itis when a person holds extreme views, and favors extreme measures. These people are desperate, especially in Kenkiyak where there is high unemployment and the local executive bodies have a callous attitude towards solving social problems, as well as corruption, theft, and lawlessness by the police. Thatis why there is this conflict. These are the main reasons. Today the basis of these phenomena is not religious extremism, but social.

Recently on your Radio Azattyk web page Tolganay Umbetalieva wrote that there are in the West (of Kazakhstan) people willing to change the given political situation by shedding blood if necessary. Thefirst manifestations were the bombing of the KNB building in Aktobe and the events in Astana (sic Almaty) and Kenkiyak and several other places. Isee that it is increasing because the protest environment, the social issues are not being solvedtoday.

There was no need to send special operations units into the Aktobe region. Instead they should have sent Madame Abdykalikova, our Minister of Labor and Social Security. TheAkim (regional governor) before anything else should have gone there along with workers from the departments of employment and social programs, and then later they should have sent prosecutors and investigators to get to the bottom of things. Recurrences of this have yet to be eliminated.

I would not be surprised if in six months or a year there will once again be a social explosion. Suicide bombers in such a situation Iwill say once again that if a person is in a mess and cannot solve their problem, if he goes to the city administration or other structures, but is refused, if the courts only pass judgments based on bribes, then what has he left? Toblow himself up, to throw himself from the upper story or perform other extremist, so to speak, methods of struggle, to protect his friends and relatives. Thatis theroot.

The state must therefore turn its face to solving primarily social issues and problems, to creating basic living conditions for its citizens, to put up a strong barrier to corruption, to put the Akimats (governorates) to right. Nowwhere is an ordinary person to go, if not to a mosque or a church? Hehas nowhere to go! Those who are interested (in extremism), of course, will greet him kindly and then set him up with extremist measures.

We have now entered an active phase of social extremism, and the events that have been taking place in Arab countries, if we do not make some changes, will come tous.


Moderator: Are the law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan and its special anti-terrorist units prepared in case of infiltration from some terrorist or extremist group from outside the country? Bolat Ashikbayev, who spearheaded the creation of the “Alpha” and “Arystan” units, for example, is confident that Kazakhstan and its anti-terrorist forces are in a position to repel an attack from the outside.

(Former deputy chairman of the KNB) Ashikbayev: Each unit must have its own task. “Alpha” and “Arystan” have an anti-terror task. Ican say without boasting that they can safely repel gangs and terrorist groups. Thisis no problem. Themain thing is to work out arrangements and, of course, special training daily special training. Wehad about 14types of special combat training. Think of how many that is. “Sunkar” probably does not do this. Ido not know what they have in “Arlan”.

(Former Vice Defense Minister) Togusov: What is happening now speaks the opposite. InKenkiyak they could not get people to surrender normally or even negotiate. Onthe other hand, perhaps there are a lot of corrupt moments when the police do not want anyone giving testimony and describing how they really live, how they are being robbed and why they decided to destroy.

. , 04 2011
Another very serious problem today is that special operations units are used to solve certain political problems, and against civilians. Atone time, in order to get permission for the use of these special units against the civilian population, you had to inform the prosecutor’s office and make everyone aware. There was a whole system.

Today, evidence shows the opposite. Forexample, in 20082010in the Alatau district in Almaty there was this so-called mobile unit made up of workers from the Alatau Akimat, the directorate of countryside relations, and the police. Thenthey started bringing in special operations units. These units destroyed without warrants the homes of more than 1,200 ordinary citizens. Theyhandcuffed people and beat them up, they fought, so to speak, against grandmothers and grandfathers and pregnantwomen.

None of them is ready when they go up against real men after such “training”. Thissituation, apparently, goes on in other places as well. Where was the need to send anti-terror special units against Altynbek Sarsenbayev? Thisis where a lot of training gets wasted. Gradually it becomes degraded.

We need to fundamentally redefine the approach to the use of weapons, training, equipment, and the acquisition and use of new technologies in special operations. TheSecurity Council, the government, and the law enforcement agencies urgently need to address this. Otherwise such lapses and such incompetent and shameful special unit operations will goon.

(Retired KNB Colonel) Narmambetov: Narmambetov: Ithink that they are not fully prepared if such a course of events continues. Why? Because those village boys with their hunting rifles held them off for days, meanwhile foreign terrorist centers are preparing masters of a higher caliber. Therefore, Ithink against such a background we do not look so good. Iwould like to emphasize the following: we have too many anti-terrorist groups scattered among different departments there is “Sunkar”, “Arlan”, “Berkut”, and so on. Ithink you need to create a single anti-terrorist center based on the KNB’s “Arystan”. Interior Ministry units could be auxiliary forces around “Arystan”. Onlythen will they be able to increase their chances.

The leadership needs to change the criteria for such operations: if there are casualties among the terrorists, then fine, but when there are losses of our own people and innocent civilians, then it is necessary to evaluate it negatively, otherwise it will be like in Beslan when they were freeing the schoolchildren. Russia’ political leadership evaluated the special operation as very high, even though several hundred students were killed in the assault. Istill cannot get it into my head how they could have evaluated it positively.

Moderator: Distinguished guests on Radio Azattyk, this completes our roundtable. Thank you for participating in the discussion. Goodbye.

On ‘Radio Azattyk’


“Sunkar” commando unit directly under the Interior Ministry, and then there are “Berkut” and “Arlan” under regional departments of the Interior Ministry. Ithink that the training of special operations units in Kazakhstan is stable and at a high-level, since training goes ondaily.

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