Armed Forces Overview: In the post-Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan has not developed an armed force of significant size, and it remains dependent on Russia in many aspects of national defense. Between terrorist attacks that occurred in 1999 and 2003, military spending increased by about 50 percent, but the armed forces did not grow significantly during that period. Ground forces constitute the main fighting element. In 2004 Kyrgyzstan’s army had 8,500 active personnel, and its air force had 4,000 active personnel. Some 57,000 individuals were in military reserve status.
Foreign Military Relations: In the early 2000s, both the United States and Russia established bases in northwestern Kyrgyzstan (the United States at Manas in 2002 to support operations in Afghanistan, Russia at nearby Kant in 2003). The Kyrgyzstani government has tried to balance the competing military interests of those countries, and of neighboring China, in Central Asia. Because of the importance of that balance and under pressure from China and Russia, Kyrgyzstan has been reluctant to allow a permanent U.S. military presence. In September 2005, however, newly elected President Kurmanbek Bakiyev assured the United States that troops may remain at Manas until stability is achieved in Afghanistan, provided payments increase.
External Threat: No neighbor constitutes a conventional military threat to Kyrgyzstan. The porous southern and western borders, however, have allowed terrorist groups to enter and occupy Kyrgyzstani territory from the Fergana Valley and Tajikistan. As of 2005, membership in the security-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization had not materially improved Kyrgyzstan’s border security. A bilateral border treaty with China has improved security to the east.
Defense Budget: Since 1999 Kyrgyzstan’s defense budget has increased significantly, albeit from a very low starting point. Between 2001 and 2004, military expenditures increased from US$17.6 million to US$31 million.
Major Military Units: In 2004 Kyrgyzstan’s army had one motorized rifle division, two independent motorized rifle brigades, one air defense brigade, one antiaircraft artillery regiment, and three special-forces battalions. The air force had one fighter regiment, one composite aviation regiment, and one helicopter regiment.
Major Military Equipment: In 2004 the army had 215 main battle tanks, 30 reconnaissance vehicles, 387 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 63 armored personnel carriers, 141 pieces of towed artillery, 18 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 66 mortars, 21 multiple rocket launchers, 26 antitank guided weapons, 18 antitank guns, and 48 air defense guns. The air force had 52 combat aircraft and 9 attack helicopters.
Military Service: The minimum age for conscription or voluntary military service is 18, and the term of service is 18 months. Conscription eligibility continues until age 27. Since 2000 the military has moved from a conscription system to a mainly volunteer army, but pay failures have caused increased desertions.
Paramilitary Forces: Kyrgyzstan has a border guard force of about 5,000. A nominal National Guard is manned by regular army personnel.
Foreign Military Forces: In mid-2005, about 1,000 U.S. troops were stationed at Manas Airport as a supply point for U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. In 2005 about 700 Russian troops were stationed at Kant Air Force Base, but a 2005 bilateral agreement called for substantial increases in that number.
Military Forces Abroad: No Kyrgyzstani forces are stationed abroad.
Police: The main law enforcement agencies are the Ministry of Internal Affairs (for general crime), the National Security Service (for state-level crime), and the national prosecutor’s office, which prosecutes all types of crime. All police forces are under civilian authority. Police, who are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have been used to disrupt political demonstrations, and incidents of police corruption have been reported. The violent demonstrations of 2002 brought about a police reform program aimed at improving public perceptions of a force known for taking bribes, criminal ties, and violence, and plagued by low pay. About 25,000 police were active in 2004.
Internal Threat: Corruption and incompetence in the police force have led to uncontrolled crime in urban parts of Kyrgyzstan. In the early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan’s location between Tajikistan (a major transit country for narcotics from Afghanistan) and Russia has made the western part of Kyrgyzstan (particularly Osh) a major transit region for narcotics and trafficking in people, with related increases in overall crime and in the incidence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). During that period, domestic narcotics production and abuse have grown sharply. In 2005 Kyrgyzstan had the third-highest rate of opium addiction in the world. Domestic crime groups also have become linked increasingly with transnational groups. In the Fergana Valley, tension exists between citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over land and housing rights. The political ferment of 2005 included public demonstrations that raised fears of long-term instability. Reportedly, in 2004 and 2005 the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), a nominally nonviolent radical Islamic group advocating the overthrow of secular governments in Central Asia, increased substantially.
Terrorism: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan has suffered incursions by terrorist groups (notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—IMU) from hotbeds of Islamic insurgent activity in nearby Tajikistan and the Fergana Valley. In 1999 Islamic terrorists took a group of Japanese and Kyrgyzstani hostages in Kyrgyzstan, and an Islamic insurgency continued in Batken and Osh in 2000. In 2003 a series of minor incidents in Osh were attributed to terrorists. Those events showed that Kyrgyzstan did not have sufficient security forces to prevent a major terrorist incursion. Domestic forces have been upgraded somewhat in the early 2000s, but Kyrgyzstan likely would need assistance from Russia or Uzbekistan to counter a serious insurgency.
Human Rights: Beginning in the late 1990s, journalists who criticized the Akayev regime often were imprisoned, as were opposition political figures such as Feliks Kulov. Four political parties were barred on technicalities from the parliamentary elections of 2000. The election code changes of 2004 restrict access to electoral procedures by the media. Courts often do not observe the nominal right to counsel and to presumption of innocence of the accused. Prisons are overcrowded and have serious shortages of food and medical support. In the early 2000s, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus rates in prisons were high. The reporters of some independent media outlets have been harassed and threatened, acts of violence have occurred, and copies of independent newspapers have been confiscated. Registration of new media outlets has been prolonged or denied, and the government’s awarding of broadcast frequencies prolonged. Authorities have restricted the activities of some Muslim groups considered extremist and of some Christian missionary groups. The constitutional amendments of 2003 contain several nominal improvements to human rights protections, but genuine reform has not occurred. Women, who have equal status by law, are well represented in most professions, particularly law, medicine, banking, and nongovernmental organizations. However, women are more likely than men to lose their jobs in economically difficult times.