The U.S. Congress has again given the State Department the go-ahead to give military aid to Uzbekistan in spite of concerns about the country's poor record on human rights, a State Department official has told The Bug Pit.
Congress imposed restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan in 2004 after the country's government failed to implement promised political reforms. Those restrictions remain in place today. But two years ago Congress, at the urging of the Obama administration, agreed to allow the Secretary of State to waive those restrictions if it were necessary for national security reasons. That waiver needed to be renewed every six months, and the ability to waive expired in October 2013. But Congress renewed the provision and last month the waiver was exercised again, a State Department spokesperson said.
"This waiver will allow the United States to provide assistance to the central government of Uzbekistan, including equipment to enhance Uzbekistan's ability to combat transnational and terrorist threats," the spokesperson said in an email to The Bug Pit. "Examples of this equipment include night vision goggles, personal protective equipment, and Global Positioning Systems. Enhancing Uzbekistan's defensive capacity improves the security of the U.S. supply transit system to Afghanistan and our ability to support our troops there." The new authority to waive will expire September 30, 2015.
The equipment in question includes not just the examples the spokesperson noted, but also tactical surveillance drones. Uzbekistan is also lobbying for some of the used mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles the U.S. is looking to offload as it pulls its troops out of Afghanistan.
It should be noted that the waiver is renewed, and U.S. military aid is growing, as Uzbekistan's utility to the U.S. is dropping dramatically. While Uzbekistan played a key role in getting equipment in to Afghanistan, it has been much more reluctant to help the U.S. get its equipment out, which is the main task now. Less than one percent of U.S. equipment leaving Afghanistan now travels via the Northern Distribution Network, ostensibly the key piece of cooperation between the U.S. and Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, U.S. military aid policy toward Uzbekistan is going to get a bit more transparent soon. As noted by Security Assistance Monitor, the State Department will now have to provide an unclassified report about expenditures it makes in Uzbekistan for the NDN. When the original waiver was passed two years ago, one provision that Congress required was to get regular reports on how NDN money was being spent. There has been a lot of well-grounded speculation that NDN money is enriching some of the most repressive elements of the government of Uzbekistan. But the reports to Congress so far have been classified. Now, though, they'll have to be unclassified (thought they can still include a classified annex). That should provide some useful information to those curious or concerned about where U.S. money is going in Uzbekistan, though the fact that some information remains classified will mean that not all suspicions can be quieted.