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Central Asia Crucial to War on Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2002 – The Central Asian countries have been dependable allies in the war against global terrorism, said J.D. Crouch II, assistant defense secretary for international security policy.

Crouch testified June 27 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said that following Sept. 11, the United States was able to get troops and military materiel into Central Asia quickly by capitalizing on previous military-to-military contacts.

In a prepared statement for the committee, Crouch said U.S. interaction with the countries of Central Asia laid "the groundwork both politically and militarily for coalition operations."

U.S. ties to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan date back to the fall of the Soviet Union. The United States was interested in eliminating the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, promoting membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, helping regional peacekeeping efforts and fostering greater regional cooperation, Crouch said.

While those goals remain, other factors have pushed to the fore. "The events of Sept. 11 clearly highlighted that the United States and the countries of Central Asia have significant mutual security interests," Crouch stated. "The continued stability and security of this region will remain an important U.S. interest."

He said Central Asian governments see the presence of U.S. and coalition troops as enhancing their security. "All of the Central Asian countries have told us that (Operation Enduring Freedom) directly addresses their security concerns," he said.

These concerns, Crouch said, include homegrown and imported terrorism and religious extremism; drug trafficking and traffickers' connections with violent groups; and the threat of weapons of mass destruction materials crossing their borders.

The nations of the region offered their assistance immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes. Uzbekistan provided bases for U.S. and coalition troops, Crouch said. The country also provided links for humanitarian aid to reach starving Afghan refugees.

Kyrgyzstan hosts coalition forces at Manas Air Base. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have provided unlimited overflight permission and allowed their territory to be used for supply purposes. Tajikistan has allowed coalition aircraft to refuel at the Dushanbe International Airport.

All this assistance is being given even as the area faces terrorist threats, Crouch continued in his statement. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a threat not only to the Uzbek government, but to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as well. The group wants to institute a Taliban-like "pure" religious government in the region, he said.

While the primary U.S. focus will remain the war on terror, other regional problems demand attention. He said the United States will continue to work with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to demilitarize former Soviet facilities.

All the countries need the example of the U.S. armed forces. "It is our intent to provide them a democratic model, sound military advice and tailored assistance," Crouch said. "Extremist violence, fueled by narcotics and overlaid on a population struggling with poverty, are real obstacles to stability and security."

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