GULFPORT AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Miss. - Afghanistan is the world's leading opium producer having produced 74 percent of the world's opium in 2012 according to the World Drug Report 2013.
From cultivation to refined heroin, Afghanistan plays a role in poppy production. According to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report once cultivated and processed, 95 percent of Afghanistan's poppy product is illegally traded and sent out of the country. Of that 95 percent, 25 percent heads to the Russian Federation via Central Asia.
Central Asia is comprised of nations that once formed the Soviet Union. Nestled among these countries is Kyrgyzstan, formally known as the Kyrgyz Republic. Osh, a city in the southern region of the Kyrgyz Republic, is located along one of the major thoroughfares linking the Russian Federation to Afghanistan, thus, making the Kyrgyz Republic a major transit country for the illicit drugs leaving Afghanistan. As a result, the United Nations, in the World Drug Report 2010, recognizes the Osh region as the epicenter of Central Asia's drug trafficking problem.
This drug trafficking issue brought the Kyrgyz Republic Drug Control Service and Border Service officers to the Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., to take part in a counternarcotics information exchange with U.S. subject matter experts in counternarcotics and highway interdiction.
"Combating drug trafficking is key to securing social stability and Kyrgyzstan's successful development," Kyrgyz State Drug Control Service (GSKN) Southern Region Chief Investigator Ainagul Jorobekova said in Central Asia Online Aug. 15, 2013.
"Illicit trafficking by transnational criminal organizations represents a growing U.S. national security concern that warrants the capabilities of the Department of Defense to be brought to bear in support of a whole-of-government approach," according to the 2011 DOD Counternarcotics and Global Terrorism Strategy.
Although miles and culture separate the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States, both countries are battling illicit drugs. As a result, the two nations have begun collaborating and consolidating forces and information in an effort to better curtail illicit drugs and illicit drug trafficking.
To that end and in support of combatant commanders and in conjunction with the Montana State Partnership Program, the National Guard Counterdrug Program's Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA) played host to the Kyrgyz Republic Drug Control Service and Border Service officers Sept. 1-10.
"It is good to work with colleagues form the United States and the National Guard in particular. The training is organized and really good. We are learning many new things," Colonel Igor Sychev-Deputy Chief of the Main Operational-Searching Department said. "In the past, we couldn't even imagine working with the National Guard."
The training consisted of briefings outlining methods and techniques of searching vehicles for drugs and contraband. It was designed to help the Kyrgyz Republic Drug Control and Service Officers better curtail and interdict illicit drug trafficking in their homeland. In addition, they attended briefings describing procedures for border and customs control.
"The stuff we are seeing here is new for us; getting new knowledge about trucks and how drugs are concealed in vehicles is good," Sychev said. "We will be able to take this new knowledge home where we can pass it to our colleagues and use it in our daily work."
Not only will the Kyrgyz officers take new knowledge home, they will return with newly found and reestablished friendships.
"When talking friendship, we are talking cooperation and exchange of experiences with countries. We are sharing expertise, sharing and learning to gain experiences that enable us to have more in the "tool box" needed for our job," Sychov said. "It is important to meet new people; an important thing in our daily job is the connection with people."
This developing friendship between Kyrgyz officers and the National Guard can trace its roots to the National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP). According to National Guard Bureau officials, the National Guard SPP was born out of a National Guard Bureau proposal that paired U.S. states with nations emerging from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Montana has been developing a partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic since 1996, and Mississippi formed a partnership with Kyrgyz Republic neighbor, Uzbekistan, in 2012.
Montana established a counternarcotics exhange nexus in 2008 Lt. Col. Steve Keim, the Montana Counter Narcotic Advisor, said.
The State Parnership Program provides the framework to facilitate cooperation across all aspects of international civil-miltary affairs, and it encourages people-to-people ties at the state level.
"The National Guard State Partnership Program is, "'one of the best foreign policy bargains our nation has,'" vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [Navy Adm. James Winnefeld] said in a story written by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill for the Army National Guard Online.
"This counternarcotic information exchange has been a valuable experience for both countries," Maj. Gary L. Crist, executive officer Mississippi Counterdrug Task Force (MSCDTF)/RCTA said. "We have strengthened the relationship between our nations through interaction in the classroom and by sharing meals; it has been an informative experience for all."
The Kyrgyz Republic officers have returned home armed with new skills and techniques to use as they work to interdict illicit drugs transiting from Afghanistan to the Russian Federation. Although this chapter of the information exchange is closed, this is not the end of the story, it is but one of several planned counternarcotic information exchanges between the Kyrgyz Republic and the National Guard.