Uzbekistan Allows US Access to Airbase

by Nathan Hamm on 3/5/2008 · 6 comments

termez.jpgThe AP reported earlier today that Uzbekistan is allowing some NATO members, including the United States, to use an airbase in the country to assist operations in Afghanistan.

The details are confusing though. The AP story says that the official who made the announcement, NATO’s Robert Simmons, did not name the base, and that the base has been in use since December. This Reuters story says that the base in question is Termez, and suggests that US troops have not been using it yet. Another Reuters story has more details, all of which make this Eurasianet story seem a bit exaggerated.

“We welcome the fact Uzbekistan has shown readiness to allow other countries to use this airbase,” he was quoted as saying in Moscow by Russian news agencies. “As far as I understand, the United States is beginning to use this facility.”

The U.S. embassy in Tashkent said that under the arrangement US staff would use Termez only as part of wider NATO operations in Afghanistan.

“Individual Americans attached to the NATO International Staff can use the German air-bridge from Termez to Afghanistan on a case-by-case basis,” the embassy said in a statement sent to Reuters. It did not elaborate.

A Western diplomat in Tashkent said the Termez deal involved allowing U.S. military personnel to use the base as a transit point on their way to and from Afghanistan.

“I understand…U.S. soldiers will be able to fly via Termez but only aboard German aircraft,” the diplomat said. “I don’t know if there are any similar agreements with other nations.”

So, there is indeed a substantive change, but it is fairly limited. For the time being, the Uzbek government has not said a word on the arrangement. And I would not expect that it would anytime soon. I do expect that the relationship between Uzbekistan and the West will continue to improve — perhaps US planes will be touching down at Termez in the near future.

Between this and the handful of (non-systematic) human rights improvements in the past couple months, it would seem that last December’s election did in fact mean something. Nothing has really changed on the surface save for a few officials, but it seems that Karimov’s victory has changed the equation behind the scenes. And if the leak of false reports of a change in the prime minister’s office is what it appears to be, it would appear that there is some sort of wrangling going on behind the scenes.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Mister Ghost March 5, 2008 at 10:51 pm

A warming up of relations between Uzbekistan and the US is certainly a good thing for the Uzbek people. They might actually get a few decent ice cream stores in Tashkent. An American company, Speaking Roses just signed an agreement with the Uzbek company Butterflies & Flowers to print designs on flowers – it’s apparently the hottest craze in the floral industry in the US – so we seem to be seeing these incremental steps towards better Uzbek – US relations. Maybe it has something to do with the upcoming American election?

Dolkun March 6, 2008 at 10:37 am

… or the opposite. It may be a sign that the U.S. has put aside the multilateral agenda in favor of security ties. I’m happy for those Uzbeks who are no longer denied the right to buy printed flowers, but I’m not sure what this means for the rest of the population.

(And the flower thing sounds like the kind of thing that if one of the daughters isn’t involved in already, it may prove too hard to resist.)

Ataman Rakin March 6, 2008 at 12:11 pm

“but I’m not sure what this means for the rest of the population.”

Great! They can be shot by Uzbek Spetsnaz armed/equipped with American weapons/gear and trained by Israeli mercenaries.

brian March 6, 2008 at 1:18 pm

^ I think that’s what a lot of us may be afraid of. Whether we do support the Uzbek security services (again) or not, this may be the impression regardless. Hopefully, the relationship will be cordial but at arms-length… and for god sakes I hope we don’t train or equip them again.

Ataman Rakin March 7, 2008 at 9:06 am

“Hopefully, the relationship will be cordial but at arms-length… and for god sakes I hope we don’t train or equip them again.”

Don’t be naive. There’s not reason why the realpolitik gone awry when supporting Saddam against Iran or propping up numerous African dictatorships at the time are not to be repeated in Uzbekistan. But then don’t expect anyone among the population in Uzb to still like ‘the West’ in a number of years. Be ready to be hated.

For this is seriously undermining the West’s (US+EU) overall credibility in the region. People started to wonder already a couple of years ago after the US first came into Uzb: the West comes up with all those roaring principles, democracy, human rights and what all, … But then either they are not capable of pushing them through (cf. the slimy and even outrightly submissive attitude towards Karimov, Israël, etc.) or else don’t even live up to them (cf. Abu Graib).

Michael Hancock March 7, 2008 at 11:50 am

I like to think we didn’t “come up” with those principles. I guess I’m naive.

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