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31-07-05, 19:08
Uzbekistan orders US to quit strategic military base

By Christopher Swann in Washington

July 31 2005

Uzbekistan has ordered US military personnel to leave an air base in the country, adding to US logistical difficulties in conducting its operations in Afghanistan.

The US military said on Sunday that strategists were planning their response to the loss of facilities in Uzbekistan. The Karshi-Khanabad air base--commonly called K2--has been an important staging post for operations in Afghanistan where US troops continue to battle the Taliban and deliver humanitarian aid.

The Pentagon said the notification from the central Asian nation had not come as a surprise. Relations with the US have become strained after the Uzbek government suppressed a rebellion in the eastern town of Andizhan in May.

Although the Uzbek authorities said that 187 people had been killed, human rights organisations believe the figure could be closer to 750. The US, along with other western nations, has called for an independent investigation.

Analysts believe that as relations have cooled with the US, Uzbekistan has been cementing ties with Russia and China with both countries expressing strong support for the Uzbek government's response to the May rebellion.

China and Russia are thought to be nervous about the US military's presence in the resource-rich area. Earlier this summer China announced a deal to invest heavily in Uzbekistan's oil industry.

The US may now try to boost its presence at other bases in the region. During a visit to central Asia last week Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defence, was given an assurance that the US would be able to continue to use its base in Kyrgyzstan.

Although the US has no bases in Tajikistan, a nation that shares a long border with Afghanistan, it is able to refuel aircraft in the country. Last week, Mr Rumsfeld said that the US could cope with the loss of facilities in Uzbekistan. “We're always thinking ahead. We'll be fine,” he said.

A Pentagon spokesman said on Sunday that all options were being considered. The Uzbek government has given the US six months to shift aircraft, personnel and equipment out of the nation. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's president for the past 16 years, has blamed the unrest in his country on Islamic militants and has rejected calls for an outside inquiry.

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