Armed Forces Overview: During the post-Soviet era, Uzbekistan has maintained the largest military force in Central Asia, totaling 50,000 to 55,000 active-duty personnel in 2004. However, the training and experience of this force are low, and the government has spent relatively little on replacing Soviet-era equipment. The military plans to eliminate conscription in the process of creating a smaller, more mobile professional force, but no deadline has been announced for that reform. In 2004 the active force was composed of 40,000 army personnel and 10,000 to 15,000 air force personnel. Some 17,000 to 19,000 internal security troops also were active.
Foreign Military Relations: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan has focused its military relations on bilateral links rather than commitments to multilateral organizations. It has sought to balance such links among the competing interests in the region. In 2000 Uzbekistan signed a bilateral military agreement with Turkey, implicitly to discourage Russian hegemony in Central Asia. In 2002 a strategic partnership agreement with the United States aimed at post-September 11 cooperation against Islamic extremism, but that agreement required domestic reforms that Uzbekistan did not carry out. The subsequent establishment in Uzbekistan of a U.S. base for operations in Afghanistan improved bilateral relations, but the extension of that arrangement increased apprehension among Uzbekistan’s neighbors and in Iran and Russia. The United States vacated its base and severed military relations in 2005 following the Andijon riots and curtailment of the base agreement by the Karimov government. In 2004 Uzbekistan signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia, continuing the rapprochement of the two countries that began in 2003 and shifting Uzbekistan’s military policy away from Western alliances. Late in 2005, a mutual security agreement with Russia created conditions for the basing of Russian forces in Uzbekistan, although no timetable was established. Uzbekistan also moved closer to Russia by signing the Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a move it previously had eschewed. In the early 2000s, bilateral military negotiations with China sought a second linkage with a major regional power. Uzbekistan has discussed multilateral security arrangements with the other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, including China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan).
External Threat: As the dominant military power in its region, Uzbekistan faces no conventional military threats. The major external security concern is the Islamic groups that have sworn to replace the secular government of Uzbekistan with an Islamic state. This genuine threat also has been a pretext for increased domestic repression by the Karimov regime. In 1999 and 2000, the Uzbekistani military repulsed (with difficulty) guerrilla forces of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as they attempted to move into Uzbekistan. In 2001–2, the IMU suffered severe losses in Afghanistan, and its known terrorist activities since 2001 have been outside Uzbekistan.
Defense Budget: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan has sharply reduced its defense expenditures as civil wars have concluded in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the government recognized an over-commitment to defense. Between 2001 and 2003, defense expenditures decreased from US$74 million to US$52 million, but in 2004 they increased to US$54 million.
Major Military Units: In 2004 the ground forces were organized in four military districts, comprising two operational commands and one command in Tashkent. The major units are the following brigades: one tank, 10 motorized rifle, one light mountain, one airborne, one air assault, and four artillery. The air force has seven fixed-wing and helicopter regiments.
Major Military Equipment: The army has 340 main battle tanks, 13 armored reconnaissance vehicles, 405 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 309 armored personnel carriers, 200 pieces of towed artillery, 83 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 96 mortars, 108 multiple rocket launchers, and 36 antitank guns. The air force has 135 combat aircraft, 29 attack helicopters, and 23 assault and transport helicopters.
Military Service: Males are eligible for conscription at age 18. The term of active duty for conscripted personnel is 12 months. The government has discussed eliminating conscription and forming an all professional army, but no deadlines have been announced.
Paramilitary Forces: Uzbekistan’s security troops, under the administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and including internal security and border forces, number between 17,000 and 19,000 troops. The National Guard, under the administration of the Ministry of Defense, has about 1,000 troops.
Foreign Military Forces: In 2005 the United States withdrew all of the 1,750 troops that had been stationed at Karshi-Khanabad air base, southwest of Samarqand, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. No Russian or other foreign forces were present in 2005.
Police: The National Security Service (NSS), under the direct command of the president through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has the responsibility for suppression of dissent and Islamic activity and surveillance of all possible opposition figures and groups, as well as prevention of corruption, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking. Because it receives no effective oversight, the NSS is considered one of the most powerful security police forces in the former Soviet Union. In 2004 NSS forces numbered between 17,000 and 19,000. Conventional police operations are the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each governmental jurisdiction has a police force; the forces of larger jurisdictions are subdivided by function. The police forces reportedly are corrupt. According to human rights organizations, both NSS and regular police use arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and violent tactics. At community level, civilian police organizations of the mahallas aid the local police in crime prevention and deterrence of anti-government activity.
Internal Threat: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan’s relatively low rate of violent crime has increased. The rate of common street crime also has increased during that period. Beginning in the late 1990s, Uzbekistan’s location north of Afghanistan has meant increased narcotics trafficking, despite efforts to improve border controls. Several routes move drugs from Afghanistan through Uzbekistan to markets in Russia and Europe. The availability of drugs has stimulated a significant increase in domestic sales and drug addiction, together with associated forms of crime. Corrupt law enforcement officials have been involved in the trafficking process. In the early 2000s, large-scale smuggling operations in oil (out of Uzbekistan) and cigarettes (into Uzbekistan) also have flourished, and a black market in cotton exists.
Terrorism: In the early 2000s, widespread poverty and political repression created positive conditions for terrorist recruitment. Since the late 1990s, Uzbekistan’s secular government has been the main target of extremist Islamic groups, particularly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which have the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia. Although the IMU suffered severe losses in the Afghanistan conflict of 2001–2, a number of small-scale terrorist attacks have occurred in urban centers since that time. The attacks escalated after U.S. troops were stationed in Uzbekistan in 2002. A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Group in Uzbekistan claimed responsibility for bombs detonated in Tashkent in July 2004. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a nominally nonviolent Islamic extremist group, operates a large number of secret cells in Uzbekistan and neighboring countries and has been rumored to support selected terrorist operations. The size of that organization also is unknown, although its membership likely numbers in the thousands. Because Hizb ut-Tahrir has chapters in many countries, its radicalization is a major international security concern.
Human Rights: In 2004 the government responded to ongoing international allegations of human rights abuses by making modest improvements, including nominally intensified government oversight of prisons and law enforcement procedures. Members of the Tajik minority have suffered discrimination, in some cases being forced to change official identity from Tajik to Uzbek. Media censorship is not explicit, but in fact citizens’ access to conflicting views is limited severely by state control of information sources and self-censorship based on fear of official retaliation. Unauthorized public meetings and demonstrations are forbidden, and police disrupt peaceful protests. The activity of civic groups is circumscribed by rigid registration requirements. The government controls all activities of the mainstream Muslim organizations, prosecuting unauthorized Islamic groups on charges of “extremism.” Proselytizing and the teaching of religion in schools are illegal, as is all unregistered religious activity. Police and security troops have the legal right to arrest individuals without a warrant. Arbitrary arrest, torture, and extended pretrial detention are common. Although the constitution guarantees many aspects of a fair trial, in fact defendants face arbitrary court procedures, and the rate of conviction is extremely high. The quality and quantity of defense lawyers are low. Prison conditions are poor. Discrimination and violence against women are common, and trafficking in women from Uzbekistan has increased in the early 2000s.