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Kazakhstan and NATO have started joint exercises to evaluate the readiness
Kazakhstan and NATO have started joint exercises to evaluate the readiness of Kazakh peacekeepers to take part in NATO-led operations, the Kazakh Defense Ministry said on Monday.

Steppe Eagle is a joint annual exercise which is conducted with the participation of troops from the United States and the U.K. This year it is being held at the Iliysk training grounds near Almaty.

"The joint exercise is a scheduled event held in line with previous agreements [with NATO] on various aspects of military cooperation," the ministry said.

According to the Kazakh military, the exercise will test the standards and potential NATO interoperability of Kazakhstan's peacekeeping forces (KAZBAT), which are currently expanding with U.S. and NATO assistance from battalion to brigade level (KAZBRIG).

Despite its close military ties with Russia, Kazakhstan is striving to become the first country in Central Asia to achieve NATO-interoperability.

The former Soviet republic has deployed a small unit of KAZBAT in Iraq since 2003.

This year's exercise is particularly significant because KAZBAT will be evaluated by NATO observers and experts in accordance with the NATO's Individual Partnership Action Plan agreed to in January 2006.

Kazakhstan joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994.


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