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Uzbekistan tells U.S. military to leave

Published Aug 6, 2005 8:51 PM

The government of Uzbekistan hand-delivered an eviction notice to the Penta gon on July 29, via U.S. Embassy officials in the capital of Tashkent. The official document ordered the U.S. to close its military base in Karshi-Khanabad in the south of the country within 180 days.

Just days earlier, U.S. Defense Secre tary Donald Rumsfeld had assured report ers that it wouldn’t matter much if Tash kent issued a demand to vacate the base. Rumsfeld said the Uzbek base wasn’t all that important to Pentagon operations against Afghanistan. “We’re always thinking ahead,” he told reporters. “We’ll be fine.”

In May, however, Pentagon mouthpiece Bryan Whitman had described the Uzbek base as “undeniably critical in supporting our combat operations.”

Why is there a U.S. airbase in this former Soviet republic in the first place? The U.S. military moved into the base, dubbed K2, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which served as the pretext for the Pentagon to invade Afghanistan.

Since then, thousands of National Guard, Reserve and active duty units have used the base as a logistical hub to launch military operations, move military supplies, and house aircraft, equipment and some 3,000 U.S. troops. The base’s long runway can accommodate large military planes, making costly mid-air refueling unnecessary.

James O’Halloran, editor of “Jane’s Land Based Air Defence” and owner of the British-based company Research Analyst Defense, stressed that “the close could have significant impact on the way U.S. forces conduct and support combat and reconstruction operations in neighboring Afghanistan.” (EurasiaNet, July 31)

Reconstruction? Tell that to the Afghan people who are suffering terrible deprivation from the war.

Col. James Yonts said the Pentagon will now have to fortify and expand its air bases in Afghanistan at Bagram, north of Kabul; Kandahar in the south; and Manas in nearby Kyrgyzstan.

Who armed the ‘unarmed’ coup attempt?

Washington’s spin is that this ouster is rooted in events in the eastern city of Andijan in Uzbekistan on May 12 and 13.

Tashkent officials maintained that their soldiers suppressed a coup in Andijan, killing some 170 people, half of whom they described as armed militants. Western-backed “human rights” agencies argue that far more were killed and that these were unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.

The reported rioting in Andijan followed “color-coded” coups in former Soviet Republics: next-door neighbor Kyrgystan, Ukraine and Georgia. Wash ington is widely believed to have had a hand in these “regime changes.”

The events at Andijan don’t sound so peaceful when described by Kabul Par piyev, identified as a fugitive leader of the May 12-13 attempt to overthrow the Uzbek government. He surfaced for an interview with journalist Alisher Saipov, published in The Globe and Mail of Toronto on Aug. 1.

Parpiyev describes his group as having been armed with handguns and submachine guns. He recalls cars and buildings burning as his men organized a jail break for 23 local businessmen reportedly accused of religious extremism. He vowed to continue to use terror tactics to overturn the current government.

Reporter Saipov arranged follow-up telephone interviews with Parpiyev, including one with The Times of London.

Political to-ing and fro-ing

Since May, Washington has used the events at Andijan as a political lever over the Uzbek government. “The White House was at first muted in its criticism of the massacre,” explained the Guardian of Britain on Aug. 1, “but the State Depart ment has grown increasingly vocal in condemning the attack and calling for an independent investigation.”

On July 28, U.S. and British ambassadors tried to change the subject at a closed-door Security Council briefing about Africa and put Andijan on the agenda. Russia blocked the maneuver.

The following morning, at 5:30 a.m., a Boeing 747 ostensibly arranged by the UN used the K2 base to airlift to Romania more than 440 Uzbeks who had crossed the border into Kyrgystan. Romanian For eign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said that the Uzbeks would travel on to other countries, including the U.S., where they will undoubtedly be debriefed and some recruited by U.S. intelligence agencies.

That same day U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned the Kyrgyz government to demand the release from its district jail in Osh of Uzbek prisoners who face criminal charges stemming from the Andijan coup attempt. At least initially, Kyrgystan refused to comply.

Tashkent immediately ordered the Pentagon base closed within 180 days, result ing in the cancellation of senior State Department official R. Nicolas Burns’ plans to travel to Tashkent to demand an international investigation into Andijan.

Washington may tighten the thumb screws on Tashkent’s leaders. “NATO defense ministers are to meet in Berlin next month,” reported the Aug. 1 Finan cial Times. “German officials said Donald Rums feld, U.S. defense secretary, could use the meeting to galvanize opposition to Uzbekistan. The U.S. had tried to get criticism of the Uzbek government included in the final communiqué of a meeting in June.”

German officials are expressing worries that if Washington ratchets up pressure on Tashkent, Berlin may lose its key military base in southern Uzbekistan, which houses transport aircraft and helicopters, and flies troops and supplies to German operations in the Kabul area and the northern towns of Feyzbad and Kunduz.

“There isn’t a sensible alternative to this base,” bemoaned a German defense ministry official.

Uzbekistan is the first of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics now in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to order the Pentagon out of its country. On July 5, the SCO—made up of China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Kazak hstan, and with new observer members Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia—demanded that the U.S. provide a time table for militarily pulling out of Afghanistan and Central Asia.

That’s why today a front group like Freedom House, which receives funding from the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and the State Department, ranks Uzbekistan “not free,” along with Zimba bwe, Syria and North Korea—countries that have refused to surrender their sovereignty to imperialism.

The order to close the K2 airbase is just one move on what Zbigniew Brzezinski cynically referred to as “the Great Chess board” of Central Asia. In his book by the same name, Brzezinski—advisor to the Rockefeller dynasty and the Carter administration—reiterated the importance of U.S. finance capital securing a monopoly over the energy-rich and geopolitically strategic region.

But U.S. imperialism is finding it hard to impose its hegemony and the profits of war are not flowing like oil.

The sheer might of the Pentagon was able to set up Hamid Karzai as titular president of occupied Afghanistan and Zalmay Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to occupied Iraq. Both have been insiders with the Bush-connected oil company, Unocal. Nevertheless, the military machine is mired, facing strong insurgency in Iraq and renewed resistance in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan has just signed a strategic partnership agreement with Moscow involv ing a $1-billion investment by Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom. (The Scotsman, Aug. 1)

Now the Pentagon is being booted out of its first base in Central Asia since 9/11.

Does this matter to U.S. finance capital? In the lingo of Rumsfeld himself: “You bet.”