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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Mulls Utilizing Tajikistan in Air War

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has concluded that at least one former Soviet airfield in Tajikistan can support combat missions by U.S. fighter bombers in close range of Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan, senior U.S. defense officials said Monday.

Basing combat jets less than 60 kilometers from the Afghan border could take significant pressure off carrier-based navy aircraft and vastly increase the air war's intensity, enabling U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter bombers to deliver heavy bomb loads multiple times each day, the officials said.

Although no final decision has been made to base combat jets in Tajikistan, the Tajik government signaled its willingness during a recent visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make three former Soviet bases available for use in the Afghan war.

Rumsfeld has made no secret of his desire to have land bases closer to Afghanistan to augment U.S. Navy jets that currently are flying 800 kilometers each way from carriers in the Arabian Sea. U.S. Air Force bombers also are flying six-hour round-trip missions from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and U.S. Air Force fighter bombers are flying from bases in the Persian Gulf, missions that take eight to nine hours.

If a decision is made to base aircraft in Tajikistan, fighter jets could be flying from the country within a week, another senior officer said.

Perhaps the biggest advantage offered by combat jets based close to Afghanistan, a senior officer said, is response time."If I'm on alert and a target emerges, I'm up and there in 30 minutes, bombs are off, and I'm back," the officer said. "And I can be refueled and rearmed in very short order."

Reuters reported that Tajik officials played down reports Tuesday that the United States would start using their airfields for bombing raids on Afghanistan.

"I have no information of any concrete agreement on the use of Tajik airfields by U.S. forces," said a Foreign Ministry official in Dushanbe.