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Bloomberg News January 11, 2002

China, Russia Voice Concern Over U.S. Bases in Central Asia

By Paul Basken, with reporting by Anthony Capaccio

Washington, Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The expanding U.S. military buildup in Central Asia is prompting concern in Russia and China over what may be the largest U.S. presence in the area since the Vietnam War.

Russia and China, which are trying to expand their own influence in the region, have supported the U.S. war against terrorism. They are questioning why the U.S. presence is growing more than a month after the rout of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan.

``One should not endlessly expand the aims of the anti- terrorist operation, which should be conducted under UN aegis,'' Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told a regional gathering this week in Beijing, according to state-run Tajik radio, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, said at the same meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization the political climate ``should be determined by countries of the region themselves,'' Russian news agency Tass reported.

The U.S. is expanding and may be making permanent some of the dozen or so military bases built in or near Afghanistan since October, when the war began against the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist network, which is accused of carrying out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, analysts said.

They include the Manas airfield near the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek, only about 200 miles from the Chinese border.

Most Extensive Presence

Until Sept. 11, the U.S. had not stationed any forces in the former Soviet Union and hadn't approached the Chinese border since working out of Pakistan in the 1960s, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-based defense analysis group.

``This is certainly the most extensive American presence in Central Asia since Vietnam, and is further into central Asia than we've ever been,'' Pike said.

The Pentagon declined to describe the intent of the buildup.

The job in Afghanistan isn't over ``so some of what you are seeing is to facilitate airlift flow and support,'' as conventional U.S. forces and international peacekeepers increase in Afghanistan, said Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers, addressing a defense industry forum this week, said the ``question of long-term'' would be addressed by policy planners.

The State Department declined to comment.

Echoes of Gulf War

The Pentagon may be repeating a policy from the Gulf War, where U.S. bases remain in several countries near Iraq more than a decade after the victory in Kuwait, Pike said.

At the Manas airfield in Kyrgyzstan, about 200 U.S., French and British troops have been building a tent city to house 2,000 to 3,000 troops by next month, the New York Times said. The tents have floors and are heated, the Times said, describing it as evidence of an intention to maintain a long-term presence.

Other U.S. facilities that may be expanded include the Jacobabad air base in Pakistan and the Khanabad airfield in Uzbekistan, Pike said. Other countries with U.S. military deployments since Sept. 11 include Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Turkey and Kuwait, Pike said.

General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, said each branch of the armed services is making longer-term plans to rotate troops through the region.

`Mopping Up'

``If all you knew about the war was what you saw on TV, you might have thought that we basically won the war about a month ago,'' with only some ``mopping up'' left to do, Pike said.

``The U.S. military is of the view that there's going to be a permanent presence basically to make sure that al-Qaeda has been extricated and that they can't come back,'' he said.

That possibility was high on the agenda of this week's meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Russia and China formed last summer to help counter growing U.S. and European investment in the region, and oppose U.S. plans for a national missile defense system.

Other members of the six-nation group, which evolved from a 1996 association designed to defuse tension along the border between China and the former Soviet Union, are Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

The group, in its final statement this week, reiterated support for the war on terrorism, praised the political overhaul in Afghanistan, and made no direct criticism of the U.S. buildup.

UN Job

It said anti-terrorist operations should be directed by the United Nations, ``their scope may not be extended arbitrarily, and they must not be accompanied by interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.''

The reactions from China and Russia reflect a split in both countries between those who want a stronger relationship with the U.S. and those who regard U.S. actions with suspicion, experts and analysts said.

``We probably are kidding ourselves if we think the themes which had seemed to describe a troubled relationship prior to Sept. 11 had been completely eliminated,'' Robert Kapp, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, said of China's reaction.

Russia may be calculating that its support for U.S. expansion in Central Asia may help win U.S. backing on other foreign policy concerns such as Iraq, Georgetown University Professor Rob Sobhani said. The U.S. and Russia are negotiating over U.S. demands for a tightening of UN sanctions on Iraq.

Other Central Asian states likely welcome the U.S. presence, trusting the U.S. not to share the ``imperialist'' ambitions of either Russia or China in the region, said researcher Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.

Story illustration: See

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/centcom.htm for a map of U.S. military bases in the region.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times