While Ken Silverstein reports on the Pentagon’s hushed dealings with the brutal dictatorship in Uzbekistan, Germany has a scandal of its own with a potentially wider scope. In June 2006, the German government responded to a parliamentary inquiry “whether the government had, since December 14, 2005, provided technical or financial support for the military activities of Uzbekistan” with a very simple “no.” But a report in Germany’s Tageszeitung demonstrates that this answer was false:
An investigation by Tageszeitung establishes that notwithstanding these claims the Bundeswehr continued to provide military training to Uzbek soldiers even after the European Union imposed an arms embargo. A spokesman of the Defense Department confirmed in response to our inquiry: “In the period in question, 35 members of the Uzbek armed forces received training in the military operational areas of the Bundeswehr.” The military training, which has been ongoing since 1994, apparently includes matters other than “the guidance of soldiers in a democratic society” in its lesson plan. Indeed, the soldiers from Uzbekistan were, notwithstanding the explicit EU embargo, given training in tank warfare. According to the Tageszeitung’s investigation, Uzbek officers were operationally acquainted with “Marder” (German for marten), a mechanized infantry combat vehicle.
The paper further quotes the German Defense Department:
“With respect to the army, 14 Uzbek officers undertook training courses lasting several weeks each that were directed to mechanized infantry and ranger troops (battalion commander), as well as training for unit leadership for mechanized infantry, rangers, communications, and reconnaissance (company leader).” The training of the Uzbek officers included sessions on “internal leadership” as well as “tactics in deployment of allied forces,” which is military-speak for field maneuvers. The Uzbek soldiers were apparently trained in the deployment of mechanized infantry formations in connection with specific tasks, according to a German army spokesman. “With respect to the leadership cohort, this would include exercises focusing on the principal weapons system of the unit in question (e.g., with respect to the “Marder,” for the infantry men),” says the Defense Department with respect to the “plan of education for officers.”
In other words, the training program covered the exact tactics and type of equipment that the Uzbek dictator deployed in connection with the Andijan massacre. In May 2005, mechanized infantry vehicles were used by Uzbek forces to attack thousands of protesting citizens in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan. Around 500 Uzbeks died as a result of the operation, and civilian fatalities, largely in the form of summary executions, in the continuing unrests in the region have been put at up to 5,000. (The Uzbek government insists that only 187 Uzbek civilians were killed, a claim that is, however, widely discounted.) The European Union’s ban on support to Uzbekistan’s military, which was stridently opposed by Germany but put into place over German opposition, was voted as a consequence of the massacre. Germany pushed aggressively for a suspension of EU sanctions on Uzbekistan, achieving success in October 2007.
Why is Germany so beholden to the Uzbeks? The German Defense Department operates a base, known as Strategischer Lufttransportstützpunkt 3 in Termez, Uzbekistan. The facility is a logistical support base for German military operations in Afghanistan and is currently home to about 300 German soldiers, who help maintain seven C-160 transport planes and five CH-53 helicopters used in Germany’s Afghanistan operations. Germany has consistently refused to convert the facility into a NATO base, preferring to maintain it as a bilateral German-Uzbek facility under the operational control of the Luftwaffe. It has also shown considerable sensitivity about the full scope and nature of its operations there.
The Tageszeitung report suggests very strongly that Germany knowingly violated the European Union sanctions and then lied to German parliamentarians about it. There is good reason to suspect that this occurred because of Lufttransportstützpunkt 3, and perhaps because of commitments Germany made to secure the facility. But this also points to an extraordinarily close relationship between the German Defense Department and the Uzbek dictator. Demands for parallel European and German investigations into the ostensible embargo breaches by the Germans have been raised.