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US, NATO planning long-term stay in Central Asia - Kyrgyz paper 
Source: Vecherniy Bishkek web site, Bishkek, in Russian 22 Jan 03

[Newspaper headline] The region is in an interesting state

Foreign analysts think that Washington's announcement about the deployment of American forces in the southern CIS countries is only temporary - a bluff. It is very likely that America will establish a powerful military base in Central Asia.

Only recently, according to foreign experts, the Americans have taken an interest in Central Asia as part of their long-term strategy. The editor of "Jane's World Armies", a retired major in the British army, Charles Hayman, thinks that "the Americans have been keen on this for some time and carried out many military exercises".

Kyrgyzstan has had many debates about the NATO military base in Manas. It wouldn't be wrong to call the republic as the main base of NATO, in particular, the US, in the region. According to some reports, however, the American government is thinking of placing more importance not to official Bishkek but to Tashkent. Uzbekistan, for example, according to the doctor of historical sciences, retired Col Igor Vaskin, is viewed by Washington as a key state capable of leading the process of strategic reorientation of the states of Central Asia from Russia to America.

Tashkent, according to Vaskin, is useful for the US as a country which has a cool relationship with the former fraternal Soviet republics. On the other hand, the US is trying to find a reliable partner next to the Caspian Sea, in the region with large sources of oil and gas...

In early October, 2001, USA and Uzbekistan concluded an agreement which provided the American military with a lot of authority in holding operations together with the Uzbeks on the Khanabad base, Kokaydi, and Tuzel. In exchange, the Americans are to ensure the security of the country which is the recipient of their servicemen.

In Khanabad today, according to Internet sources, there are about 1,500 American servicemen and more than 30 helicopters. During the American bombing of Afghanistan, cargo planes landed here on a daily basis flying in supplies for the American group of forces in this country and equipment for modernizing the airport. Tashkent, however, did not allow the Americans to use the territory of Uzbekistan for deploying their fighter jets. Only in "exceptional cases".

The signed agreement between USA and Uzbekistan, according to Russian analysts, could be said in some ways as being a bilateral defence pact. In any case, it is a long-term military responsibility. When the agreement expires, according to the Izvestiya newspaper, there will be an official announcement about leasing the Khanabad base by the US government for 25 years. According to preliminary forecasts, there will be up to three thousand American servicemen in Uzbekistan and in the region of 50-60 jet bombers. The Americans plan to invest more than 500m dollars in this project; the Yankees will have to pay between 270-300m dollars annually for the rent.

Tashkent, according to unconfirmed reports, was over the moon when Washington proposed 8bn for the use of the base. It is possible that in actual fact the figures are not so fantastic. Whatever, Uncle Sam has already started showering Karimov's government with donations. Uzbekistan received six million dollars from the Americans to destroy the bioweapons store in the Aral sea.

Karimov's government, according to the Internet sources, is working hard to keep silent about the signing of the agreement. In contrast, official Bishkek is very open about cooperation with NATO and the USA.

Today, Uzbekistan has one of the most powerful military groups in Central Asia. Tens of thousands of soldiers are based in Ferghana and in enclaves on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Official Tashkent, according some reports, is still more inclined to increase its military presence on the border with our republic. With the assistance of Western experts and "humanitarian" second-hand army supplies this already seems a reality.

With the most-favoured status in cooperation, Tashkent, according to Western experts, is already threatening the existing balance of force in Ferghana. Until now under the slogan of fighting extremism. What later? Illusions of settling territorial and other issues with neighbours by force?

By the way, following Tashkent, Astana has also sent a signal to the American military about its intention. If not long ago the Central Asian neighbours of Russia were trying to get the most-favoured status in terms of Russian weapon supplies, then now their stance is changing. The most frank in this respect was the announcement made by the Kazakh defence minister. He said that for updating the air defence system "it is not compulsory to purchase military hardware in Russia". Astana, as the minister acknowledged, " is carefully studying US, British and French proposals"...

Kazakh servicemen today attend lectures in the same universities in the US visited by their Uzbek counterparts. American instructors train military experts for the mobile and special units. The Americans are funding the holding of joint exercises and the formation of a Kazakh peacekeeping battalion. So far it seems that Uncle Sam is not very interested in the neighbouring republic's bases. Possibly because it is far from Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, Western military experts think that with time NATO and the US will consider the proposed sites in Kazakhstan. American military presence, as they think in Europe, will, however, move in the northern direction, close to Russia.
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