By Dzhumaguly Annayev
Turkmen military reservists are heading off to training exercises for the first mass mobilisation since the country attained independence in 1991.
In accordance with an October 30 decree by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmen reservists have been fulfilling their new obligations since the beginning of 2015, local and international media reported a few days ago.
“This is the first large-scale and serious … mobilisation of reservists in the nearly 24 years of the country’s independence,” Defence Ministry official Agamyrat Garakhanov told Central Asia Online, calling the number of called-up reservists a “state secret”.
Authorities summoned 200 reservists from Ashgabat and each of the country’s five provinces, making about 1,200 in all, other sources at the Defence Ministry told Central Asia Online. Turkmenistan has about 30,000 active-duty troops.
Former border guards, paratroopers, communications specialists, tank crewmen, artillerymen and motorised infantrymen were among the first to go through the retraining, the Defence Ministry sources told Central Asia Online.
Some of the reservists have been deployed to units along the Turkmen-Afghan border, where “the situation is rather tense because of … threats from units of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL)”, a Mary Provincial Military Commissariat official, Sylapberdy Khojadurdyyev, told Central Asia Online.
“Those groups, as we were told at a meeting, are outside Kabul’s reach, which is why anything can be expected from them,” he said.
“In January and February, we summoned and sent for retraining more than 200 reservists,” Khojadurdyyev said. “That work will continue in March.”
Those reservists all were sent to Serhetabad and Tagtabazar, near the Afghan border, he said.
Retraining for reservists is organised based on amendments made November 8 to Turkmenistan’s law on military service. The call-up applies to male reservists aged 25 to 45.
“Former privates, sergeants, master sergeants and officers in the reserves are subject to a month of military exercises every three years,” said Garakhanov of the Defence Ministry.
This time, though, reservists are facing a three-month obligation, some online news organisations with their own sources in Turkmen military units have reported.
Retraining is essential
It is essential to keep the reservists’ military skills fresh, analysts say.
“Our army has received new weapons and military equipment, so it has been decided that reservists should be trained to operate these new items well,” Garakhanov said, adding that the reservists also would take physical education, tactical and shooting courses.
All the reservists sent to retraining will retain their civilian jobs and salaries, Khojadurdyyev said.
Nonetheless, some are questioning the need for the exercise.
“Ours is a neutral country that nobody plans to attack,” said reservist Master Sgt. Nurberdi Agayev, an Akhal Province man summoned for retraining.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Soltan Botirov suggested several possible reasons for the mass call-up, noting the silence on this point from the Defence Ministry.
One is a simple shortage of manpower, inadvertently caused by an unrelated policy.
“High schools switched to a 12-year system starting in the 2013-2014 academic year [compared to the previous 10-year system],” he said. “That [delay of boys’ draft eligibility] has resulted in major problems for the Turkmen armed forces for three drafts in a row.”
Turkmenistan holds two drafts a year.
Moreover, Turkmenistan wants to boost its troops, a reform announced last November implied.
Formerly, male college students would have three months of military training or 12 months of active duty. Now, like any other draftee, they face two years of military service after graduating.
Militants massing at border a likely reason
However, the biggest motivator might be the reports of ISIL banners recently appearing in areas of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan. Last year, Militants in Afghanistan ambushed and killed several Turkmen border guards in multiple incidents.
“We don’t talk about ISIL aloud,” Botirov said, “but the threat exists, and we must thwart it by any means available. That’s why [the authorities] have been taking all those preventive steps.”
On February 21, media reported the simultaneous establishment of four new check-posts along the southern border.
Meanwhile, news broke in early February that the Defence Ministry was holding on to conscripts whose two-year terms had expired last November or December.
“Soldiers due to be sent to the reserves are continuing active service … near Ashgabat, Serhetabad … Mary and Tagtabazar,” the news website Khronika Turkmenistana reported February 10, expressing concerns that conscripts might find themselves obligated to serve 30 months instead of 24.
However, Garakhanov rejected charges of a potential extension of the term of conscription, saying on-going developments are nothing out of the ordinary.
“Each state must take care of its own security,” he said. “External threats are always likely, but the situation [now] is under control, and there’s no need to announce a general mobilisation.”