Uzbekistan is most important country for transportations to Afghanistan

Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 30 / Trend V. Zhavoronkova/

Uzbekistan is the most important country for the U.S. and its allies within their military operation in Afghanistan, the U.S. expert on Central Asia Bruce Pannier said.
The fragile U.S-Pakistani relations almost exclude an ideal exit route which runs through Pakistan, making Uzbekistan the most important Central Asian country for the U.S. and its allies.

"I think Uzbekistan is the most important Central Asian country for the U.S. and its allies," Pannier, expert of Radio Liberty, wrote Trend via e-mail.

Indeed, for the U.S. Pakistan is the most convenient and reliable route supplying troops in Afghanistan, but now Washington faces a problem of finding a way of cargo transportation that doesn't go through this country.

Pakistan demanded the U.S. to leave the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days and blocked ground supply routes through Pakistan to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan after a NATO attack on a Pakistani military outpost last weekend that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pannier said for the U.S. now the only other option is Central Asia with no matter how complicated that may be.

"The U.S. would like to use bases in Central Asia though it is too risky," he stressed. "Uzbekistan would be the best choice for this, because it is
Uzbekistan is more important as an exit from Afghanistan, Pannier believes.

"The U.S. and NATO have brought a lot of equipment to Afghanistan in 10 years and will need to get it all out of Afghanistan in the next few years," he added.
According to Pannier, getting supplies into Afghanistan through Pakistan will still pose problems when foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 as is scheduled.

"The next best route would be rail through Central Asia, namely Uzbekistan, then Russia and back into Europe and that may be the only choice," Pannier said." It also would mean maintaining good ties with Uzbekistan since that is where the railway line is located."

The U.S. is operating Manas Transit Center (TC) [previously military base] in Kyrgyzstan to transport military equipment and servicemen to Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan's state power has changed and the newly elected president Almazbek Atambayev has repeatedly stated that the U.S. lease to use Manas it will not be renewed after it expires in 2014, Pannier added.

"Of course Bishkek might rethink that position if the militant problem in Kyrgyzstan grows worse," Pannier said. "In any case, Kyrgyzstan is currently not a very stable country and appears to be increasingly depending on Russia whose position on a U.S. military presence in Central Asia is well known'.
Other Central Asian country -Turkmenistan - is simply out of the question because of the Turkmen government's policy of "positive neutrality" that would never allow a foreign military presence on its soil, Pannier believes.

One more country of the region - Kazakhstan is too far away, he added.

"Tajikistan is the one country where the U.S. and NATO appear to keep better ties with an eye toward post-2014 Afghanistan and Central Asia," Pannier said.

According to Pannier, Tajikistan allows NATO to use airfields outside Dushanbe and has been looking for someone to rent the newly repaired and modernized airfield at Aini. This Central Asian country neighbors Afghanistan and warplanes leaving from it could be over areas in Afghanistan in a matter of few minutes, Pannier said.

"I could see the Tajik government allowing a few more warplanes from NATO or the U.S. to use a base there after the 2014 drawdown," he added. "But this would only be a modest support base, valuable for quick strikes and providing a safe haven near the theater of combat but unlikely to become a major base for operations in Afghanistan."

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