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.