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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajiks May Open Bases to U.S. Troops

APRussian soldiers from the 201st division setting up position Monday near the Karaul-Tube village on the Tajik-Aghan border.
The day after President Vladimir Putin gave the Central Asian states a green light to support U.S. military action in Afghanistan, Russia hinted that Tajikistan might offer the U.S. forces the use of its main airport.

"Dushanbe airport may be offered to the U.S. Air Force to carry out a retaliation strike if the need arises," Interfax quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying.

Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan joined Kazakhstan and Russia in offering air corridors to the United States.

Ivanov's statement followed Putin's televised address Monday night in which the president said he was in "complete mutual agreement" with Central Asian states in providing limited support to the United States.

This opportunity to help Washington, including giving the Americans the possible use of air bases north of Afghanistan, gives the states a chance to establish warm ties with Washington without incurring a Russian backlash.

Putin has asked Ivanov to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts with the United States, which blames Osama bin Laden for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed some 7,000 people. The Taliban, which rules most of Afghanistan, has been sheltering bin Laden.

Ivanov said no requests for facilities had been received so far. "No one is flying anywhere at the moment," he said.

The Defense Ministry could not immediately confirm the Interfax report. Tajik officials appeared to have been taken by surprise. Spokesmen for the Security Council, Foreign and Defense ministries said they had not heard of such plans.

Yet even before Putin's speech, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov expressed "our readiness to cooperate with the world community, including the government of the United States, in the fight against international terrorism and extremism."

As well as handling normal civilian passenger traffic, Dushanbe airport serves as a military airport for Russian forces deployed in Tajikistan. In addition to border guards, 6,000 troops of Russia's 201st motorized division are based in Tajikistan, which shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Afghanistan.

Russia wields a strong influence on its former satellites. Three of them -- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- are part of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty. Uzbekistan, which has withdrawn from the pact, has found itself increasingly dependent on Moscow in fighting Islamic insurgency.

Putin said Monday that Russia would step up arms supplies to the opposition Northern Alliance, share intelligence with Washington and open air corridors for humanitarian aid in the event of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

He made clear that Russian troops, apart from search-and-rescue operations, would not go into Afghanistan.

Putin said Russia and the Central Asian states had a joint policy in the conflict but that allies were free to offer their services to Washington. Most have stuck to a cautious line.

Kyrgyzstan said Tuesday it would offer air corridors to the United States, without specifying whether warplanes and military cargo flights could use them.

Turkmenistan, which maintains a neutral status, agreed to offer the Americans air corridors only for humanitarian flights.

"They have asked us to transit across our territory humanitarian cargoes of flour and other things, and I have given my agreement," Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said on television Monday after speaking with Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan and has extensive facilities built by the Soviets as logistical and military support for their own 1979-89 Afghan campaign, said it was open for dialogue on cooperation but had received no requests. Uzbek officials have denied media reports that advance U.S. military teams have already arrived in the country to see how its facilities could be used for operations in Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan went furthest, offering the United States air corridors and air bases for military planes. But the vast territory has no border with Afghanistan.

Apart from Dushanbe airport, Tajikistan could let the Americans use the southern air bases of Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube.

Cooperation now could yield future dividends for Dushanbe.

Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet state, is facing a drought that UN officials say has put a million lives at risk. It desperately needs the kind of humanitarian aid given to Afghanistan but so far largely denied its northern neighbor.

The Central Asian states remain little known in the West despite a decade of independence. Russia, which views them as strategic assets, is their largest trading partner and security guarantor.