Reacting to indicators that Central Asian leaders are disgruntled, the Pentagon's top military official traveled to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to re-emphasize the United States' strategic commitment to the region. During his visit, Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that Washington would be giving an additional $21 million in military aid to Uzbekistan a country that the State Department recently refused to certify as adhering to acceptable human rights practices.
On August 13, Meyers was in Kazakhstan, praising the country for providing "considerable assistance in the anti-terror operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," the Interfax-Kazakhstan new agency reported. A Kazakhstani military unit is currently in Iraq, primarily engaged in de-mining operations.
A key stop on the week-long, five-nation trip was Uzbekistan, where Meyers arrived August 10. A major topic during Meyers' discussions with Uzbek military and political leaders was the Islamic radical threat. Uzbek authorities have struggled to contain Islamic radical violence underscored by the late July suicide bombings in Tashkent. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
In a show of support for the Uzbek government's anti-terrorism efforts, Meyers announced that the United States would add $21 million in assistance to a previous $39-million commitment to help Tashkent prevent the proliferation of biological weapons. In addition, Meyers announced that 14 patrol boats, worth $2.9 million, would be delivered to Uzbekistan. The boats could help authorities patrol the Amu Darya River that divides Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon's extension of security assistance to Uzbekistan comes a month after the US State Department refused to certify Uzbekistan as conforming to internationally accepted human rights norms. The State Department's decision meant the loss of about $18 million in aid for Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The Pentagon's aid actions appear driven in part by signs that Uzbekistan's strategic ties to the United States are loosening. Since the September 11 terrorist tragedy, Uzbekistan has been Washington's staunchest ally in Central Asia, making an air base available to the United States to help provide support for on-going anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Faced with the growing Islamic radical threat, however, President Islam Karimov's administration has sought to diversify its security options, turning primarily to Russia for added economic and military support. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Trouble signs for US strategic interests are readily evident these days in Central Asia, and they are not limited to Uzbekistan. In July, Tajikistan agreed to host a permanent Russian military base. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In mid-August, regional officials hailed military exercises involving the Collective Security Treaty Organization -- comprising Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as a great success. In addition, Russian defense officials recently announced that Moscow would expand its military base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan. The Itar-Tass news agency on August 12 quoted Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aytmatov as saying that Russia was Bishkek's "main strategic partner." [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Russian political analysts say Russia has been able to bolster its strategic influence in Central Asia because of Washington's focus on the upcoming presidential election, as well as the ongoing Iraq reconstruction operation. "The prolonged crisis in Iraq is not allowing the [Bush] administration to devote much attention to the Central Asian region," commentator Dmitry Bagiro wrote in an article published August 11 by the Politkom.ru web site. "At the same time, Russia has started working more regularly and more intensively with the leaders of Central Asian states."