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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Rapid-Reaction Force Completes 1st Exercises

MATYBULAK, Kazakhstan — A newly formed, NATO-style rapid-reaction force of former Soviet nations wrapped up its first large-scale exercises Friday with a dramatic show of firepower that shattered the quiet of a Central Asian plain.

The maneuvers in southern Kazakhstan were part of a Russian bid to increase the power and status of the seven-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization military bloc that Moscow hopes will eventually counterbalance NATO.

President Dmitry Medvedev watched the more than 7,000 troops with his counterparts from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, all of them dressed in desert camouflage.

The leaders of CSTO members Belarus and Uzbekistan did not attend, however, which may raise concerns about cohesion in the fledgling alliance.

Russian efforts to increase its clout in Central Asia are widely viewed as an attempt to outmaneuver the United States, whose forces have used bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to support military operations in Afghanistan.

CSTO officials said Friday that the exercise was meant to test the new rapid-reaction force and improve coordination among armed forces in the event of an attack against any member state, something that has worried some Central Asian nations that share borders with Afghanistan or Pakistan.

"It is written in the rules of this organization that we will defend any member of the CSTO from extremists, terrorists and drug traffickers," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev told reporters.

About 90 aircraft from the Kazakh and Russian air forces participated, swooping in and launching missiles. In a second stage, dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers roared across the training field as attack helicopters hovered.

The exercise ended with a mock lightning raid on a chemical plant seized by terrorists and an assault to save people held hostage on a bus.