Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev recently announced his intention to deploy additional Kazakhstani military personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKOs). The Central Asian nation has significantly increased its participation in PKOs in recent years by sending over 100 contingent troops to the U.N. mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Nur-Sultan appears to be keen to continue this trend.
Tokayev has “instructed the Kazakh Defense Ministry to prepare a road map by Aug. 1 next year,” according to the the Astana Times. Thus, additional troops will not be deployed until 2022 at the earliest.
This brings up the question of where these new troops will be deployed. It goes without saying that such deployments must be made in conjunction with the United Nations (e.g. Security Council, U.N. Peacekeeping and other relevant bodies); however, we can hypothesize some locations.
The main possibility is UNIFIL, as Kazakhstan already operates there in conjunction with an Indian battalion. It would make sense for Nur-Sultan to increase its participation in an operation where its troops are already deployed.
Alternatively, Nur-Sultan could offer to send troops to another mission that requires well-trained, disciplined soldiers. For example, troops could be sent to the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) or in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). One problem is that these countries are major hot-spots of violence and peacekeepers have been attacked and killed in recent years. For example, this past June one Indonesian “blue helmet” was killed, and another was injured, when their patrol was attacked by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern DRC. On the other hand, the area where UNIFIL operates has been generally calm since 2006.
As of October 31, Kazakhstan has two staff officers and 122 contingent troops in UNIFIL, in addition to eight experts in the U.N. mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO). At the time of this writing, a new contingent of Kazakh troops are training in Kazakhstan in preparation for their deployment to Lebanon. It is worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how the new peacekeepers will arrive. The military personnel will arrive at the mission in two stages to allow for a quarantine. According to the peacekeeping contingent’s commander, Daniyar Sharipov, “the company will replace 60 people with newly trained soldiers in the first stage and another 60 in the second. Upon returning to Kazakhstan, all military personnel will stay in a two-week quarantine,” explains the Kazakh media.
As I discussed in an earlier report on Kazakhstan’s participation in UNIFIL for The Diplomat, Kazakh blue helmets operate out of two bases near Ibl el-Saqi, named UNP 4-2 and UNP 4-3. They are assigned to UNIFIL Sector East, which hosts troops from Brazil, Indonesia, Nepal, Serbia, and Spain, among other countries. The main Indian Battalion (INDBATT) base, where the Kazakhstanis are stationed, is not far from the sector headquarters. Their tasks are quite varied, including conducting foot and vehicle patrols, performing staff duties, manning observation posts and checkpoints, providing security to U.N. positions, and working in the Battalion Mobile Reserve (BMR).
One recent non-patrol activity carried out by Kazakh peacekeepers involved training in explosives disposal. The training course took place in the Sector Headquarters in Ibl el-Saqi. Kazakh and other peacekeepers from the area (e.g. those from India, Serbia, and Spain) trained alongside Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), which included learning “in situ removal and neutralization of mines by using explosives,” the U.N. explains.
Apart from its participation in UNIFIL, Kazakhstan also assisted with the relief effort after the August 4 explosions in Beirut. Specifically, a team of military personnel, including 29 surgeons, traumatologists, neurosurgeons, intensive care physicians, paramedical personnel, and four translators departed from Aktau to Lebanon on August 8.
Tokayev’s announcement that Kazakhstan will increase its participation in U.N. missions is praiseworthy, as U.N. peace missions are always in need of well-trained and professional blue helmets. So far, troops assigned to UNIFIL have performed well, hence other U.N. missions will benefit from Kazakh troops among their ranks.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, defense, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere and post-Soviet regions. The views presented in this article are the author’s own.