- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan Uzbekistan's president announced yesterday that his nation will permit U.S. military forces to deploy aircraft and helicopters at a base near Afghanistan, as the first 1,000 U.S. Army troops were set to arrive in this Central Asian nation last night.
"We have offered one airfield in Uzbekistan with all its land facilities in order to deploy a limited number [of] transport cargo airplanes and helicopters," Uzbek President Islam Karimov told reporters after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
However, Mr. Karimov said U.S. forces would not be permitted to conduct "land operations against Afghanistan" or missile or aircraft strikes from Uzbek territory.
The president spoke as the first group of U.S. Army troops belonging to the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., deployed to Uzbekistan as part of the cooperative agreement announced by Mr. Karimov. The destination of the force was not disclosed.
However, a U.S. Army team has been in Uzbekistan for the past two weeks surveying airfields for the deployment, including a military airfield near the southern Uzbekistan town of Karshi, according to military sources. Two other airfields also were inspected, including one at Kagaydy, near Termez.
Elsewhere in the region, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in Islamabad yesterday to shore up support for the global war on terrorism. He discussed the possibility of a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
"We have agreed that if the current Taliban regime fails to yield up [Osama] bin Laden and it falls, then its successor must be broad-based with every key ethnic group being represented," Mr. Blair said.
The U.S. troops in Uzbekistan are part of a major deployment of U.S. military forces in the region, including warplanes based in Saudi Arabia and Oman, and four aircraft-carrier battle groups sent to areas within striking range of Afghanistan.
The Army troops are part of a "force-protection package" for the airfield to be used by U.S. forces, a defense official said.
The use of Uzbekistan for U.S. forces, despite limits on combat operations, is a major step forward in the United States' global campaign to seek out the terrorists in Afghanistan who have been linked to the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Mr. Rumsfeld also has received public statements of support from officials in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Oman, three earlier stops on his overseas trip. He went to Ankara, Turkey, for meetings with senior defense officials there after leaving Tashkent.
In addition to winning basing rights in Uzbekistan, the United States already has hundreds of military aircraft parked at fields throughout the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman all play host to U.S. planes. The Pentagon may also use the Incirlik, Turkey, air base to launch strikes.
Uzbekistan is one of several republics that once made up the Central Asian region of the Soviet Union. It became independent in 1991. With 24 million people, it has the largest population in Central Asia, and its political system has retained many of the authoritarian features of the Soviet era.
Until yesterday, the Pentagon had refused to discuss where U.S. troops would be deployed in order to protect the security of the troops and their future operations.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who joined Mr. Karimov in talking to reporters, said he expressed President Bush's appreciation for "the generous way and the spontaneous way" Uzbekistan cooperated in the anti-terrorism campaign during his meeting.
"There is no question but that the threat that terrorists pose to the world is a real one, it's an immediate one, and it's one that can be dealt with only by taking the effort to the terrorists and to the countries that harbor them," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the campaign is "an effort to find the terrorists and see that they stop imposing the kind of damage that was imposed on the United States of America on September 11 and which has been imposed on a number of countries over a good many years."
A formal agreement outlining the use of the base, overflight permission and U.S.-Uzbek intelligence-sharing are still being worked out and will be contained in a document that will be made public. The document will outline "mutual commitments and obligations and guarantees," Mr. Karimov said.
The Uzbek president said there were "no secret deals" with the United States on the basing and cooperation accord.
It is not clear how Russia will view the U.S.-Uzbek troop accord because Uzbekistan has been seen by Moscow as part of its sphere of influence. China, too, may oppose the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia. Chinese government officials have stated in official press accounts that the United States is using the pretext of counterterrorism to encircle and "contain" China.
Asked why U.S. special-operations commandos would be barred from using Uzbek bases, Mr. Karimov said, "We are not quite ready for this" a sign that secret operations could be conducted from the country in the future.
Mr. Karimov said that although special-operations troops will not be stationed in the country, "We are not very much interested in what sort of air personnel will be deployed." The types of troops sent to the base is up "to the discretion of the U.S. side."
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Karimov said Uzbekistan has been a victim of terrorism and has agreed to "upgrade and step up" intelligence cooperation and information sharing.
"In the course of three years, Uzbekistan has been witnessing the inhumane face of terror," Mr. Karimov said, referring to attacks by the Islamic Army of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group associated with bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"Therefore, we cannot afford [to stand] aside, and we are taking part in the anti-terrorism operations that the international community called for," he said.
Mr. Karimov said granting access to the base will be outlined clearly in the agreement. The decision was based on Uzbekistan's "proximity to the territory which harbors the camps and the bases of terrorists."
Both Mr. Blair and Gen. Musharraf said the evidence of bin Laden's links to the Sept. 11 attacks were clear.
But the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said Mr. Blair came to Islamabad "to encourage war" and that the Taliban leadership had nothing to say to him.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also said yesterday that there is "broad agreement" among Mr. Bush's aides to focus first on the Taliban and bin Laden's network in the war on terrorism.
However, Mr. Wolfowitz hinted to an audience of students and defense analysts at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies that Iraq also could be a future target.

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