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Central asian countries drop troop withdrawal deadline { July 26 2005 }

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U.S. Gains Continued Access in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 2:51 PM

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, July 26 -- Two Central Asian countries pledged Tuesday to continue U.S. military basing and access rights granted in 2001 for the Afghanistan war, dropping calls for a deadline for American troops' withdrawal from the region.

The public assurances of continued U.S. access came amid separate meetings Tuesday between visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

They marked a significant turn-around by Kyrgyzstan's newly elected government and for Tajikistan, both of which on July 5 joined Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in calling for a deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from the region.

Most critical to U.S. interests in the region was a guarantee Tuesday by Kyrgyzstan that U.S. forces can retain their use of the strategically important Manas Air Base until stability is achieved in Afghanistan. Some 1,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed at the Manas base, which was established near a civilian airport outside the capital of Bishkek in December 2001 to carry out refueling, airlift, and fighter missions to support the war in Afghanistan.

"The deployment of American forces in the Kyrgyz Republic fully depends on the situation in Afghanistan," Lt. Gen. Ismail Isakov, Kyrgyzstan's defense minister, said during a joint press conference with Rumsfeld. "The airbase in Manas will stay as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires," he added.

Isakov implied that U.S. forces would eventually leave after Afghanistan gains adequate security. "Once there is stabilization, there will be no need" for U.S. troops, he said. "But now I agree with [Rumsfeld], who mentioned that the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable."

In Tajikistan, Rumsfeld met with President Imamali Rakhmonov, who pledged strong and continuing support for the war on terrorism, according to U.S. aides with knowledge of the meeting.

In a press appearance with Rumsfeld afterward, Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov echoed that sentiment. "We intend to continue our active cooperation with the United States and other anti-terrorist coalition in terms of the anti-terrorist struggle," Nazarov said, specifically mentioning Tajikistan's willingness to grant U.S. overflight rights and access to other facilities. Currently the U.S. military has a "gas and go" agreement with Tajikistan that permits U.S. planes to refuel in Tajik airfields on their way to Afghanistan.

During the trip, Rumsfeld said that the U.S. military presence in the region is vital not only for Afghanistan but for broader efforts against terrorism and narcotics.

2005 The Washington Post Company

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