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Turkmenistan Just Advertised Its Counter-Terrorism Muscle

August 5, 2017

Turkmenistan’s flamboyant leader once again lifted the veil on his country’s armed might on August 1 with a video clip of military exercises. While the content was lampooned for its portrayal of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who appeared in battle dress to test several weapons, the rest of the footage provided indisputable proof that Turkmenistan is obsessed with thwarting terrorists.

The arid Central Asian state is an isolationist when it comes to its foreign affairs. This makes sense for Turkmenistan with its porous borders and close proximity to stronger neighbors. While it does trade its energy and agricultural products Turkmenistan has no commitments to local alliances nor is it entangled in regional disputes. It even managed to inoculate itself from 16 years of chaos in Afghanistan, whose civil war may still reach Ashgabat’s doorstep.

The video clip that spread across the internet at the start of the month was originally broadcast by Turkmen state media. It was then posted on Youtube by the news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek, where it garnered almost half a million views. Berdimuhamedow’s shooting skills and knife throwing demonstration in front of applauding ministers inspired a deluge of humorous commentary from viewers.

The same news website later claimed it was under a denial of service attack directed by the regime in Ashgabat.

Berdimuhamedow aims a Walther G22 bullpup with CQB accessories. The firearm has apparently become a lightweight marksman rifle for Turkmen security forces. Berdimuhamedow also tested an MP5 equipped with a flash suppressor and a .45 pistol.

The video clip featuring Berdimuhamedow, who won his third term after rigged elections in February, was reportedly taken outside the capital near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. It showed the Turkmen autocrat further embellishing his personality cult by using different weapons. It’s been speculated the entire effort was supposed to anticipate an upcoming sports event in Ashgabat and advertise how prepared the government was against the threat of Islamic State infiltration.

In just a few seconds of footage Turkmen media revealed the domestic security forces operate a rare twin engine UAV. Seen above, judging by its T-tail and shape, is a Dominator MALE drone. Dominators were first spotted in Turkmenistan during its 25th Independece Day parade in Otober 2016. The Israeli-made aircraft is a conversion of a known prop-plane. According to its manufacturer it can stay airborne for up to 28 hours.

But of greater value were shorter clips of Turkmen special forces during mock battles. These included ambush and interception with armored vehicles, airborne insertion, and using AW109 helicopters for close air support. The different types of arms and equipment revealed a new doctrine focused on eliminating ISIS-style subversion rather than conventional war.

Turkmenistan has spent undisclosed sums modernizing its domestic security forces in recent years. But instead of paying billions to Russia for new armaments, Ashgabat has diversified. As far as can be ascertained its suppliers include Austria, Belarus, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Turkey, the UAE, Ukraine, and the US. When it comes to American products sold to the Turkmen government, however, these appear confined to Ford pickup trucks.

This screen grab proves Turkmen personnel have learned to operate their UAV fleet, which could be the most advanced among the Central Asia states. Turkmenistan flies the Israeli Dominator, the  Italian Falco, and a handful of Chinese models. Armed UAVs bought from China are part of its arsenal too.

As a matter of fact, Berdimuhamedow himself can be seen exiting a Ford F150 in the August video clip before he enters an open air shooting range.

The largest known arms deal involving Turkmenistan is believed to be for the Chinese-made HQ-9 air defense system. The existence of the HQ-9 in Turkmen service, which would augment the military’s old Soviet S-200 SAMs, was confirmed during exercises in 2016 attended by Berdimuhamedow.

US Humvees in Turkmenistan? This is actually a Chinese Dongfeng truck used by the army. The two other vehicles in the ambush are Nimr Ajban pickups imported from the UAE. The Turkmen armed forces have a large collection of tactical 4×4 vehicles at their disposal.

But Turkmenistan’s frequent shows of force have done little to bury evidence its economy is on a downward spiral after energy prices began collapsing four years ago. The global decline caused a slump in the country’s gas exports and almost killed its lucrative trade with China. Since then Ashgabat has sought new markets and launched a multinational project called TAPI for a pipeline running across Afghanistan and Pakistan to reach India.

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