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Introduction

The Kygyz Republic -- a small, mountainous, isolated and poor country in Central Asia -- has faced major political and economic challenges since achieving its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The harsh realities of Kyrgyzstan's situation means that the country is an inevitable international client state, at least for the foreseeable future. Kyrgyzstan is a small, relatively resource-poor, remote nation more likely to seek help from the world community than to contribute to it.

Of all of the former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan was the most reluctant and the least able or prepared to establish a national military. The Kyrgyz armed forces face numerous challenges. While they are able to perform basic military missions, they struggle with a low budget, aged infrastructure and equipment, retention issues, unclear upper-level chain-of-command and high-level leadership changes. The military has not intervened in internal political affairs since independence.

The Kyrgyz Republic is poor and has a narrow economic base. Gold production dominates Kyrgyz industry and exports. Agriculture, hydropower and mining are all vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and natural disasters. Poverty remains widespread in the Kyrgyz Republic and many families depend heavily on remittance income. A combination of political divisions within the country, social concerns and vested interests continue to impede progress on implementing the structural reform agenda. implement such policies, as domestic opposition to the sale of state assets is strong, Foreign investors remain wary because of the poor business environment, high levels of corruption, and recurrent power shortages.

The Kyrgyz Republic is a Central Asian country of natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. Occupying a strategic location on the Silk Road, its territory is one of the most ancient centers of human civilization, as documented in Chinese, Arabic, Iranian, and Turkish written sources. It is about the size of Nebraska, with a total area of 76,640 square miles -- 560 miles east to west and 255 miles north to south. It is bordered on the southeast by China, on the north and west by Kazakhstan, and on the south and west by Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Bishkek (formerly Frunze), the capital, and Osh are the principal cities.

The Kyrgyz Republic is a country of sunshine, high, snow-covered mountains, deep gorges cut by swift rivers and 1,923 mountain lakes. In the summer months, travelers can spend part of a single day in a sunny valley, in a flowering meadow high in the mountains, and in glaciers above the clouds. Extensive mountain ranges featuring ridges, deep gorges, wide valleys, and virgin forests are complemented by more than 40,000 rivers and streams that provide irrigation and a vast potential for hydroelectric production.

The Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges dominate 65% of the country, and the average elevation is 2,750 meters, ranging from 394 meters in the Fergana Valley to 7,439 meters (24,409 feet) at Pik Pobedy (Mount Victory). It is estimated that the Kyrgyz Republic's 6,500 distinct glaciers hold more than 650 billion cubic meters of water.

About 95 percent of this Central Asian republic is covered with mountains. Its highest point is Pik Pobedy, or Victory Peak, on its extreme eastern boarder, with an impressive elevation of 24,406 feet (7439 meters), 4,620 feet lower than Mount Everest. Nestled between the Kngey Alatau and the Terskey Alatau ranges in eastern Kyrgyzstan is Lake Issyk-Kul, the world's second largest alpine lake behind Lake Titicaca in South America.

The alpine regions provide rich pastures for sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and yaks. The main agricultural regions are the Chui River valley in the North and the Fergana Valley in the South. Over half of the cultivated area is irrigated, and cotton, sugar, beets, silk, tobacco, fruit, grapes, and grains are among the main crops.

There are gold, coal, antimony, lead, tungsten, mercury, uranium, petroleum, and natural gas deposits, and industries include food processing and the manufacture of agricultural machinery and textiles. The country is lightly forested with woods covering about 3.5% of the country. However, forests in the south of the Kyrgyz Republic include the largest wild nut (walnut) groves on earth.

The Kyrgyz Republic is positioned near the middle of the Eurasian landmass, and there is no body of water large enough to influence weather patterns. Those factors create a distinctly continental climate that has significant local variations. Although the mountains tend to collect clouds and block sunlight (reducing some narrow valleys at certain times of year to no more than three or four hours of sunlight per day), the country is generally sunny, receiving as much as 2,900 hours of sunlight per year in some areas. The same conditions also affect temperatures, which can vary significantly from place to place. In January the warmest average temperature (24.8F, -4C) occurs around the southern city of Osh, and around Lake Issyk-Kul. The latter, which has a volume of 416 cubic miles (1738 cubic kilometers), does not freeze in winter. Indeed, its name means "hot lake" in Kyrgyz.

The coldest temperatures are in mountain valleys. There, readings can fall to -22F (30C) or lower; the record is -64F (-53.6C) . The average temperature for July similarly varies from 81F (27C) in the Fergana Valley, where the record high is 111F (44C) , to a low of 14F (-10C) on the highest mountain peaks. Precipitation varies from 79 inches per year in the mountains above the Fergana Valley to less than 4 inches per year on the west bank of Issyk-Kul. Bishkek's weather is fairly mild. In Bishkek, nighttime temperatures in January can be in the teens (Fahrenheit), but daytime temperatures often rise to above freezing, enough for snow and ice to begin melting. Summer temperatures can rise above 90F (32C) by the end of May. The air is dry year round.

Kyrgyzstan covers a land area of 77,415 square miles (about the size of South Dakota). Its population, which numbers 5.05 million, is divided into the following ethnic groups: 65.7% Kyrgyz, 11.7% Russian, 13.9% Uzbek, 1% Uighur, and 0.4% German. Ethnic Uzbeks are a majority in southern Kyrgyzstan, whereas approximately 420,000 ethnic Kyrgyz reside in the former Soviet Union and 170,000 in China. In 2003 Kyrgyzstan's GDP totaled $1.9 billion and its per capita GDP was $376.

Kyrgyzstan, the second-smallest of the Central Asian republics in both area and population, is located between two giants: Kazakstan to its north and China to its south and east. The rural population, already the largest by percentage in Central Asia, is growing faster than the cities. The country's legal and political systems give clear priority to the Kyrgyz majority, alienating not only Russians but also the large Uzbek minority concentrated in the Osh region of southwestern Kyrgyzstan. Friction persists over control of the scarce land of the Fergana Valley, which overlaps the territory of three republics: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The regime of President Askar Akayev (first elected in 1990) has attempted to balance sorely needed national reform programs with the demands of ethnic groups and clans that still exercise strong influence on the country's political and social structures.

Kyrgyzstan, ranked as the second-poorest republic in Central Asia, possesses a more limited range of natural resources than its neighbors. In the Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan contributed a specific group of minerals--antimony, gold, and mercury--to Moscow's economic plan. Of the three, only gold is a valuable asset in the post-Soviet world; it has attracted several Western investor companies. Kyrgyzstan has only limited amounts of coal and oil. The major energy resource is water power from the republic's fast-moving rivers. However, despite a government program of increased emphasis on hydroelectric power, Kyrgyzstan must import a large proportion of its energy supply. Kyrgyzstan's industry, which had been specialized to serve the Soviet military-industrial complex, suffered heavily when that demand disappeared; conversion has proven very difficult.

The Kyrgyz government declared its support for the war on terrorism almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. On September 25, 2001 President Akayev stated that he had approved a U.S. request to use Kyrgyz airspace for counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan. By late November 2001 it was reported that U.S. combat aircraft were to be deployed in Kyrgyzstan. Two years later, in October 2003, the Defense Department reported that the airbase in Kyrgyzstan was the "primary hub" for trans-shipping personnel, equipment, and supplies to Afghanistan.



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