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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Has No Plans to Stay in Central Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Washington does not plan to maintain a permanent military presence in Central Asia despite a substantial buildup of troops there now, the general commanding the U.S.-led Afghan campaign said Wednesday.

"We don't intend to have permanent bases in the region," General Tommy Franks told reporters on a visit to Kyrgyzstan.

But despite the remarks, skeptics in Russia said they suspected U.S. troops would not soon give up their new foothold in what Moscow still regards as its own backyard.

Speaking after meeting Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akayev in Bishkek, Franks said that even without a troop presence the United States would remain involved in the region as it continued its campaign against violent militants. "We will continue to have discussions with each of the countries in the region as well as a great many around the world," he said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Washington won permission for bases and logistical support from four of the five former Soviet Central Asian states near Afghanistan -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The fifth, Turkmenistan, is officially neutral.

While Moscow has also backed the U.S.-led coalition and raised no objection to the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia, it has started to question how long they will remain. President Vladimir Putin has said he expects it not to be long.

Sergei Yushenkov, the liberal deputy chairman of the State Duma's security committee, said it made sense for the Americans to say the bases were temporary but to keep them indefinitely anyway.

"I would not consider [Franks'] statement as the final decision of the United States," he said. "Central Asian countries may ask for these bases to have temporary status. But I think these countries will ask the United States to prolong that period as long as possible.

"If the United States were to decline to keep permanent bases in Central Asia, they would be behaving unpragmatically. I do not think they would behave unpragmatically."

There are now some 200 Americans at Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport near Bishkek and this will eventually build up to around 3,000 and some 40 aircraft. At least 1,500 troops are based in Uzbekistan's Khanabad airbase near the Afghan border.

Franks will end a five-day visit to the region Friday.

Russian troops will continue to guard Tajikistan's borders with Afghanistan and China for at least another 10 to 15 years, the commander of Russia's border guards said Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

"Tajik border guards have difficulties now, for they lack two factors that would enable them to perform the tasks of guarding their state border -- a regular officer corps, which will take 10 to 15 years to appear, and proper financing," border guards chief Konstantin Totsky told reporters in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. "Our presence within this period is appropriate and necessary," he said, Interfax reported.

Russia's border guard service heads a 25,000-troop force guarding the Tajik-Afghan and the Tajik-Chinese borders because the Tajik government has been too poor and weak to secure itself.