The Guardian January 23, 2002


US preparing for long stay in central Asia

US military planners are preparing for a long stay in the region around 
Afghanistan, writes Amir Mateen in an article in Daily Jang 
(Pakistan) (5/1/02). The article confirms fears about the Americans digging 
themselves in like in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. American warplanes 
will begin arriving at an air base being built in Kyrgyzstan in what could 
be the first prolonged US military presence in the former Soviet Union, a 
senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.

Ostensibly, the moves will allow US forces to keep looking for terrorists 
in Afghanistan. But the presence of US troops, in for the long haul, in the 
back yards of Russia and China could cause worry to the regional countries. 
That the region offers the world's largest oil and gas reserves after the 
Middle East gives credence to the conspiracy theories about larger US 
designs in the region.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghanistan born consultant of the Bush government, 
had advocated all along establishing a permanent US air base in Central 
Asia while he was at the Rand think tank in 2000. Now he has been made 
President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan.

He will also visit Pakistan after visits to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. In 
Afghanistan, army troops from the 101st Airborne Division are already 
replacing Marines, specifically because of their ability to remain for a 
prolonged period.

The US presence "is going to be longer than temporary", a Pentagon official 
told USA Today, while last month, Kyrgyz First Deputy Interior 
Minister Sadyrbek Dubanayev said, "It is not worth creating a hullabaloo 
over the landing of the US Air Force."

Kyrgyzstan, which borders China, occupies a strategic position. The new US 
base will be less than 330km (200 miles) from China and the oil fields in 
Uzbekistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not objected to the base.

But on January 9, the speaker of the Russian Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, 
warned against allowing US military bases to become permanently established 
in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

"It is not desirable that permanent US bases be established in central 
Asia", Selezynov said during a visit to the Kazakhstan.

Selezynov warned local officials that "as members of the collective 
security agreement of the Commonwealth of Independent States (a loose 
grouping of 12 former Soviet republics), we must not take a single decision 
without mutual consultation".

Gennady Selezynov is a leading member of the Communist Party of the Russian 
Federation which remains the largest single Party in Russia and in the 
Duma.

Reports indicate that Putin's decision to back the US campaign in 
Afghanistan by not making objections to the use of bases on the territory 
of the former Soviet Union has angered many leading figures in Russia's 
military and diplomatic establishment.

They are concerned that the US presence could become permanent, with 
dangerous implications for Russian security and for Russian interests with 
relation to oil pipeline routes from the energy-rich Caspian region.

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