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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rumsfeld Spins Through Central Asia

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with the rulers of two former Soviet republics in Central Asia on Sunday to bolster support for the war in nearby Afghanistan and for U.S. efforts to deny new sanctuaries for al-Qaida fighters.

Rumsfeld stopped in Turkmenistan to see President Saparmurat Niyazov and then flew to Kazakhstan's capital for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Kazakhstan's defense chief, General Colonel Mukhtar Altynbayev, said his government planned to increase its involvement in Afghanistan. He mentioned transporting and donating humanitarian aid, and working out an agreement so U.S. and allied aircraft could use at least one Kazakh airfield in the event of emergency. Kazakhstan already allows coalition aircraft to use its airspace.

"Kazakhstan confirmed its desire and its real participation in the struggle against terrorism," the defense chief, speaking through an interpreter, said at a news conference at the presidential palace. Rumsfeld was at his side.

Kazakhstan also will send at least three military officers to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, to coordinate the humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, Altynbayev said.

Rumsfeld said Kazakhstan plays an important role in the international coalition against terrorism.

In Turkmenbashi, a port city on the Caspian Sea, Rumsfeld thanked Niyazov for allowing U.S. and allied planes to use Turkmen airspace and for its role in supporting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

"Their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan have undoubtedly saved lives of Afghan people," he said.

About one-third of all food aid reaching Afghanistan since the United States launched its war in October against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network has gone through Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld said he and Niyazov did not discuss bin Laden or al-Qaida.

Turkmenistan was the third stop on a Central Asian tour that began Friday in Kyrgyzstan, whose Manas airport has become a major staging base for American and allied combat and support flights into Afghanistan.

On Saturday, Rumsfeld took a whirlwind tour of Afghanistan.

He started at Bagram Air Base, where he urged U.S. and allied troops to be prepared for a long war against terrorism. In Kabul, the Afghan capital, Rumsfeld met with the head of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, and his top aides.

Rumsfeld finished his Afghan visit in the western city of Herat, where he saw Ismail Khan, the warlord who calls himself the emir of western Afghanistan and has close ties to neighboring Iran.

On Monday, Rumsfeld was to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow to discuss the war on terrorism, progress toward an arms control agreement and preparations for U.S. President George W. Bush's meeting with President Vladimir Putin in May.