- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

MOSCOW Pentagon officials indicated yesterday that America's military presence in Central Asia could persist for years to come, prompting unease in Moscow.

The United States' professed commitment not to abandon the area after defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan has been interpreted negatively by conservatives in the Russian military and political hierarchy.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the New York Times that the staffing of air bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan was likely to be expanded into increased programs of cooperation and training with local military commands.

"Their functions may be more political than actually military," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

The bases and exercises conducted from them in the future would "send a message to everybody, including important countries like Uzbekistan, that we have a capacity to come back in and will come back in. We're not just going to forget about them."

But Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, said yesterday, "It is not desirable that permanent U.S. bases be established in Central Asia."

Russia says 2,000 American troops are deployed at the Khanabad air base near the Uzbek capital Tashkent, while U.S. Air Force personnel are at Kulyab in Tajikistan.

The Russian army does not plan to hold any division-level exercises this year because of a lack of money and resources, Col. Gen. Nikolai Kormiltsev, the head of the country's ground forces said yesterday.

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