CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA -- Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries wound up their largest-ever joint anti-terror military drill on Friday in the presence of their heads of state.
President Hu Jintao (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin look through binoculars at the Chebarkul range, Russia, before the Peace Mission 2007 counter-terrorism exercise among the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states August 17, 2007. [Reuters]
President Hu Jintao flew here on Thursday after attending the SCO summit in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, to observe the final phase of the 9-day exercise held in Russia's Urals mountains with his counterparts from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan and Uzbekstan.
The exercise began at 1 pm at a training ground of the Russian Army's 34th Motorized Rifle Division near Chebarkul, a town about 80 km west of Chelyabinsk, in Russia's Volga-Urals Military District, with three red flares blasting in the clear sky.
The flares were immediately followed by a burst of rifle fire and booming artillery in a "terrorist-held town" in which hundreds of residents were hostages. Under the scenario of the SCO drill, the militaries of the six nations held consultations and then jointly drew up plans to combat the terrorists and launch a rescue operation.
Aircraft and helicopters roared in the sky, while armored vehicles rumbled through the town. Parachutes and airborne units were airlifted to perform airborne assaults. Special forces were dropped from the armed helicopters to rescue the hostages.
What made the exercise look more like an actual battle was that the aircraft and armored vehicles used live ammunition. Only the task of destroying the "terrorists" was fulfilled with blanks.
The exercise ended at 3 pm after the terrorists were "killed" and the rescue of the hostages was signaled with the firing of three green flares into the sky.
The leaders' presence at the joint drill, the first time in the history of the organization, demonstrates their determination to combat the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism that threaten peace and stability in the region, analysts say.
Hu highlighted the SCO anti-terror exercises at the just-concluded Bishkek summit, saying they will improve the "efficiency of SCO member states in the fight against terrorism."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has deemed it necessary to create a "counter-terrorism security belt" within the framework of the SCO. He told the SCO summit that a common counter-terrorism strategy was one of the key priorities for the international organization.
More than 4,000 troops, including 1,600 from China, took part in the drill, which also involved around 500 combat vehicles and 80 aircraft from Russia and China, such as Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes, Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jets, JH-7-A fighter-bombers, JG-9-W and Mi-17 Hip helicopters.
"We carried out our every mission in the drill," General Alexander Belousov, Russian first deputy minister of defense, told reporters after the exercise. "We will announce the end of the joint exercise when the troops and equipment participating in the exercise all go back to their countries."
Ahead of the maneuvers, the chiefs of the general staffs of the SCO member countries held military-political consultations in Urumqi, capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, last Thursday.
The SCO was founded in 2001.
The Chinese military began taking part in multilateral exercises in 2002 to broaden its security cooperation with other countries.
Since then, the Chinese armed forces have taken part in 17 such drills with Pakistan, India, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Thailand, and the United States, as well as the other five SCO member countries.
(China Daily 08/18/2007 page1)