Uzbeks Ask U.S. to Leave Karshi-Khanabad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2005 Uzbekistan has exercised its rights under an October 2001 bilateral agreement to end coalition use of Karshi-Khanabad - "K2" - airfield.
The Uzbek government delivered a note July 29 to the U.S. embassy in Tashkent giving the United States 180 days to withdraw its forces from the strategic field. About 800 U.S. servicemembers are at the base.
Uzbek officials said coalition use of the base was always meant for a short duration and specifically for the purpose of providing operational support for forces in Afghanistan and providing humanitarian aid to the northern part of that country, and said there has been a "successful achievement of the goals and mission of the agreement."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this is not the case. During a visit to the region last week, Rumsfeld said operations continue against the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan, and a need still exists for humanitarian supplies in the northern part of the country.
The United States has access to air bases in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Rumsfeld said the air bases in central Asia "have been enormously helpful with respect to our efforts in Afghanistan." The bases also play a role in regional counterterrorism and counternarcotics missions, he said.
A Pentagon spokesman said DoD is working with State Department officials to respond to the Uzbek note. American military planners are working on options that will allow coalition forces "to continue combat operations and humanitarian aid" in Afghanistan.
Defense officials said other options will be more costly and cumbersome. K2 has runways large enough and sturdy enough to handle large cargo aircraft. More importantly, good, all-weather roads from the base to Afghanistan allow trucks to carry supplies into the area.
The United States paid Uzbekistan $15.7 million for services the government provided from October 2001 through the end of 2002. The United States intends to reimburse Uzbekistan a further $23 million for services provided from January 2003 to March 2005. These services include security, infrastructure improvements and logistical help.
The relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan has grown tense since protests in May in the Uzbek province of Andijan turned bloody. The Uzbeks said about 200 people were killed in the protests. The government maintains those killed were terrorists.