Rice Thanks Troops in Kyrgyzstan for Terror War Support
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2005 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked U.S., French and Spanish troops in Kyrgyzstan today for their role in helping to safeguard fledgling democracies and supporting the war on terror.
"We have strong allies in this fight. It is not an American fight, but rather, a fight of free peoples," she told the troops at Manas Air Base, according to a 376th Air Expeditionary Wing news release.
The base serves as a staging point for operations in Afghanistan and is currently hosting relief and supply efforts for earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan.
"I want to thank you for the way you work together here as a coalition, the way it should be," Rice told the troops, the news release said.
She praised the servicemembers as "the front line" of defending values they share with Kyrgyzstan and thanked them for what they are contributing to democracy and freedom in the region.
"I know you miss your families, but the American people are proud of what you're doing here," Rice told the group.
"I felt as though she, even at her level of power, had the right sight picture and knew what we were here to do," Air Force Staff Sgt. Sarah Byron-Smith, public health noncommissioned officer in charge of the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group, said of Rice's visit. "She made me feel very proud to be a part of such an historic time in our country and our world."
Rice also was scheduled to travel to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, today to meet with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and other officials.
News reports quoted Rice as heralding Kyrgyzstan's economic and political reforms and promising that the United States will stand "side by side" with its people as they continue this progress.
The visit was part of a whirlwind trip that runs through Oct. 13 and also includes stops in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
The focus of the visits is on advancing bilateral and regional cooperation on security issues, promoting freedom through democratic and market-oriented reform, and strengthening security in the region, including cooperation on counterterrorism, State Department officials said.
"I will say to all the Central Asians that the United States looks forward to broader, deeper, stronger relations (and) to being a partner as they reform economically (and) politically and as we fight the war on terror," Rice told reporters traveling with her.
Rice's visit comes as the six-month timetable for the U.S. military to leave Uzbekistan ticks away. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in July ordered U.S. forces to leave Karshi-Khanabad, an Uzbek military base, within six months.
Uzbekistan had provided the base, known as K-2, for military and humanitarian operations since just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
However, Rice emphasized during the flight to Kyrgyzstan that the United States doesn't need new military bases to support he war on terror and that her trip is not designed to seek out new bases.
"The United States is not increasing its base structure anywhere in the world," she noted, dismissing questions about seeking new permanent bases as "misplaced."
"What we're doing is we're drawing down our base structure," Rice said.
What's more important than establishing permanent bases, she said, is maintaining the flexibility and maneuverability needed to fight the war on terror, something she said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld promotes regularly during his visits to the region, and that she plans to promote as well during this trip.
"As to issues we have had with Uzbekistan on military access to K-2, we have been very clear," Rice told reporters. "We will continue to fight the war on terrorism. We will continue to do it effectively.
"We have many ways to do it," Rice said, noting the solid relationships the United States has "with countries all over that region."
(The 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this article.)