UZBEKISTAN has told the US military to leave an airbase on its soil that has been a key launch pad for American operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since 2001. The surprise move was seen as a direct response to Washington’s criticism of the Uzbek Government over the shooting of protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan in May.
It was also a victory for Russia and China, which see resource-rich Central Asia as their strategic backyard and have been lobbying for an end to the US presence there.
The US has about 1,300 personnel at K2 and another 1,000 at a base in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, also set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Washington had come under pressure in the past month from Russia, China and four former Soviet Central Asian nations to set a date for withdrawal from the two bases.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Kyrgyzstan last week and won reassurances that the Pentagon could use the Manas base there for as long as necessary. Asked last Monday about the possibility of Uzbekistan closing K2, Mr Rumsfeld said: “We have had a good relationship. It’s a good relationship now.”
Relations deteriorated when Kyrgyzstan, under pressure from the West, allowed the United Nations to fly 439 Andijan refugees to Romania, pending resettlement in a third country. The US supported the move and called for another 15 refugees, being held in custody, to be allowed to leave the country.
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