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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06ASHGABAT107
2006-01-23 13:33:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

TURKMENISTAN'S MI-8 DOWN IN AFGHANISTAN

Tags:   MASS  MOPS  PREL  AF  PK  TX 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO8851
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHAH #0107/01 0231333
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231333Z JAN 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6912
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC//J5/RUE// PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 1583
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000107 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA (PERRY), SA DAS (GASTRIGHT)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/23/2016
TAGS: MASS MOPS PREL AF PK TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN'S MI-8 DOWN IN AFGHANISTAN

REF: ASHGABAT 44

Classified By: Ambassador Tracey Ann Jacobson, for reasons 1.5 (b) and
(d)

Summary
---------



1. (C) The GOTX fumbled for three days -- January 21-23 --
before it could come up with a formal request for Operation
Enduring Freedom (OEF) Coalition Forces' assistance in a
search for a GOTX relief helicopter -- probably crashed with
seven crewmembers in the mountains in Afghanistan -- which
had been on loan to the International Committee of the Red
Cross. The GOTX likely delayed making the request because
President for Life Niyazov was in Moscow negotiating gas
prices with Russian President Putin (reftel) and nobody else
in the GOTX was authorized to make a decision. There has
been no local press coverage of the missing helicopter, but
satellite dishes are ubiquitous and the odna babushka skazala
(an old lady told me) network is quick and generally
accurate, i.e, the public will surely learn of this incident.
We have seen many examples of incredible government gridlock
engendered by Niyazov's insistence on making all important
decisions, but this example is particularly egrigious in that
it may have delayed finding -- and possibly saving -- the
helicopter crew. End Summary.

MI-8 Down


--------------------------





2. (U) On January 21, embassy's DAO received a request from
CJTF 76 (Combined Joint Task Force) in Bagram Afghanistan to
confirm with GOTX that a Turkmenistan civilian airliner call
sign RED 144 en route from Peshawar to Turkmenabat was
missing. DAO called Turkmenistan Howayollary (Turkmenistan
Airlines)/ Civil Aviation who confirmed that a helicopter and
not an airliner was missing and then asked DAO in English,
"can you help?"



3. (C) Upon investigation, DAO learned from OEF that ICRC
had reported a MI-8 with seven crewmembers as missing. The
helicopter had been on loan to the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) following the October 8 earthquake in
Pakistan and was on its way home to its base in Turkmenabat
flying a route from Pakistan through Afghanistan. DAO reached
Civil Aviation later in the day on the 21st and stated that a
written GOTX request for assistance was necessary to devote
OEF assets to the search had to be in writing on behalf of
the GOTX DCM notified MFA's Americas Desk Head Serdar
Bashimov that the request was being handled in mil-to-mil
channels and Bashimov agreed to this approach. On January
22, news of the missing MI-8 and its Turkmenistani crew was
released to the media by ICRC in Pakistan and it was quickly
picked up by AP, BBC, AFP, Reuters, RIA Novosti (Russia) and
others. DCM called Bashimov on January 22 to say the news
had hit the wire services and to inquire about the status of
the GOTX request for assistance. Through its channels DAO

learned the request had been prepared January 21 but required
the signature of the head of civil aviation who was
"unavailable." DCM called Bashimov repeatedly through the
day and evening of January 22 to say that time was of the
essence and that OEF could not offer assistance without the
GOTX request. During one phone call Bashimov said it had
unconfirmed reports that the helicopter had landed in the
Afghanistani town of Turgun (sic). Through the evening DAO
worked with OEF JOC (Joint Operations Center) to confirm this
report, but was unsuccessful. DCM offered to go in to MFA at
any time to speed up the process. Bashimov said the issue
could "wait" until Monday morning, January 23. DCM repeated
that lives were at stake but Bashimov held firm to meeting on
January 23.

MFA Meeting - Niyazov in Moscow and Russians Blaming OEF


--------------------------



--------------------------





4. (C) Bashimov called in DCM and DATT at 0900 on January 23
and delivered a formal request for assistance which DATT
immediately forwarded to Embassy Kabul. Bashimov said the
GOTX was "very very concerned" about the fate of the
helicopter and its crew and welcomed any information the
embassy could provide. Bashimov said the GOTX embassies in
Islamabad and Kabul also were assisting with the request.


ASHGABAT 00000107 002 OF 002




5. (C) Bashimov noted that Foreign Minister Meredov was in
Moscow with President Niyazov but that he would want a "full
report" upon his return from Moscow on January 24. Bashimov
also noted that "the Russians" already were imploying that
OEF had something to do with the helicopter's disappearance.
Bashimov said no to both of DCM's questions regarding whether
there would be any local press coverage or if crewmembers'
families had made any inquiries to the GOTX. At 1600 Civil
Aviation requested that DAO arrange transportation for two
officials to travel to Afghanistan to assist with the search,
DAO advised them to make their request through the GOTX
Embassy in Kabul, but that the USG had no assets to assist
with the transportion.

Still Missing


--------------------------





6. (U) As of 1800 local time, the helicopter has not been
located.


Comment


--------------------------





7. (C) The most likely explanation for GOTX fumbling on
submitting a formal request was Niyazov's absence. It is
clear evidence that in Niyazov's culture of fear, bureaucrats
would rather stay silent, delaying potentially lifesaving
international assistance, than risk being the bearer of bad
news or making an independent decision. The public surely
will learn of the missing MI-8, but the event is unlikely to
develop into a massive outpouring of frustration with the
government as was the case during the 2000 sinking of the
Russian submarine the Kursk, when Putin waited five days
before requesting international assistance. End Comment.
JACOBSON