Nevada Guard helps curb drug trafficking in Turkmenistan | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Guard helps curb drug trafficking in Turkmenistan

Editor’s note: Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmourat Niazov, 66, died Thursday after 21 years in power.

Carson City’s Erick Studenicka was in Turkmenistan last month as part of a partnership between the Nevada National Guard and the central Asian nation. Reports from the country are few as it has no independent news media and only one political party.

By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka

Nevada National Guard Public Affairs

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan – Mild daytime temperatures combined with cool nights and seasonal rains combined to create an agricultural bumper crop this autumn from the western coast of the Caspian Sea into Central Asia. There is a surplus of pomegranates in Turkmenistan, an excess of melons in Kahzastan and a record tonnage of pears in Iran.

And to the vexation of counter-drug officials in the United States and Central Asia, the perfect fall weather has led to an all-time high in poppy production in Afghanistan, with this year’s total expected to top 6,100 tons. Poppies are the primary ingredient in the production of opiate drugs including heroin.

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In an ongoing effort to curb the flow of opium and other narcotics in and out of its country, the government of Turkmenistan and the Nevada National Guard are working to build seven state-of-the-art border-crossing facilities. The first crossing was completed Nov. 11 at Altyn Asyr, near Iran, with the completion of the second crossing expected within a few months at the Turkmenistan/ Afghanistan border.

The Nevada National Guard and Turkmenistan are cooperating on this long-term project under the auspices of the Guard’s State Partnership Program with funding from the military’s U.S. Central Command. The Nevada National Guard and Turkmenistan have been linked through the program for more than 11 years.

Nevada Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Cindy Kirkland flew more than 8,000 miles across 13 time zones to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $2.5 million border-crossing facility.

“This border crossing station is a great example of what two countries can accomplish when working together in the fight against international narcotics trafficking,” he said. “This building stands as a testament to the close cooperation and mutual respect that exists between the Nevada National Guard and the government of Turkmenistan.

“The completion of the border crossing marks another significant achievement in the partnership program that has now seen more than a decade of cooperation. The facility will allow efficient international commerce while providing a deterrent to illegal trafficking, not only in narcotics, but in weapons of mass destruction, illegal immigration and contraband.”

The border crossing building cost $2.5 million and sits on a 25,000-square meter site complete with a weigh station, a radiation detector and space for drug dogs. The main 1,000-square-meter building houses customs, immigration and passport control offices in addition to medical and agricultural stations.

The Nevada National Guard had three people who devoted nearly 1,000 hours of time to see the building come to fruition. Col. (Ret.) Jon Morrow, now a civilian analyst, was the project manager for the Altyn Asyr construction and spends about six months per year in Turkmenistan.

“It’s really the front line over there in the war on drugs,” said international affairs officer Maj. Eric Wade, one of six Nevada guardsmen who made the trek to witness the grand opening. “The new crossing will assist both in controlling immigration as well as controlling narcotic traffic that’s coming through those borders.”

Autumn’s ideal weather in the region hasn’t been the only reason for a bumper crop of poppies.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in September the significant increase in the poppy production could be traced to the resurgence of Taliban rebels in Southern Afghanistan who encourage and profit from the drug trade and promise protection to growers if they expand opium operations.

The U.N. estimates this year’s opium production will increase by 49 percent from 2005, and easily outpace the previous record of 4,600 metric tons set in 1999, when the Taliban governed the country. Put in perspective, 6,100 metric tons of opium would surpass the 2005 global consumption of the drug by 30 percent.

Poppy production isn’t currently a problem in Turkmenistan, and the government intends to keep the status quo. The seven border crossings are strategically placed to prevent Afghanistan’s opium from entering Turkmenistan, where it could subsequently enter Western or Russian markets via the country’s international terminals.

“The majority of the border of Turkmenistan is fenced with armed guards and patrolled with canines,” Wade said. “This forces everyone to cross through one of the bottlenecks between countries. And those locations were where we placed the state-of-the-art facilities.”

The Nevada National Guard assists Turkmenistan in several other arenas by arranging knowledge-sharing trips between Nevada civilian organizations and the government of Turkmenistan.

Recently, professors from the University of Nevada, Reno, traveled to Ashgabat to provide expertise on advances in agricultural and veterinary science, and a Nevada Highway Patrol unit went to Turkmenistan to show authorities ,how to properly search and uncover contraband and drugs in personal and commercial vehicles.

The National Guard State Partnership Program, established in 1993, links U.S. states with partner countries using the, civil-military nature of the Guard to support security cooperation objectives.

State partners participate in civil-military activities and exchanges, from familiarization exercises to knowledge exchanges to civic leader visits.

For information on the State Partnership Program, go to the international affairs page at http://www.ngb.army.mil.