Uzbek K2 Decision No Surprise to Washington
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2005 Uzbekistan's decision to close the U.S. and coalition air base at Karshi-Khanabad did not come as a surprise to American policy makers, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Aug. 2.
"We did see an indication that this would occur; we knew it would occur," Burns said in an interview with the BBC.
On July 29, Uzbek officials delivered a note to the American Embassy in Tashkent that gave the United States six months to leave "K2" -- as American servicemembers call the base. The coalition uses the base to supply forces in Afghanistan and to deliver humanitarian supplies to the northern part of that country.
Burns said the United States has a balanced view of its relationship with Uzbekistan. "On the one hand, we clearly have been supportive of efforts to strengthen our relationship on the military side," he said. "Of course, access to the base was useful to us, but on the other hand, the United States felt it was very important we speak out clearly on behalf of those who were victims of human-rights abuses, particularly concerning the Andijan episode."
The relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan has grown tense since protests in the Uzbek province of Andijan turned bloody in May. About 200 people were killed in the protests. The Uzbekistan government maintains those killed were terrorists.
Burns said the United States will honor the decision of the Uzbek government. "But we will continue to believe that reform is necessary in Uzbekistan and (that) the Uzbek people should have a greater measure of liberty in the future," Burns said.
The 800 Americans at the base will leave by the end of January, officials said. DoD officials are working on plans to replace the capability that Karshi-Khanabad gave the coalition.