Uzbekistan OKs 'humanitarian' role for U.S. troops
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (CNN) -- About 1,000 U.S. troops were headed on Friday for Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, after the central Asian country agreed to allow U.S. forces to use one of its bases for humanitarian missions.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov said Friday that U.S. forces could use an Uzbek air base for humanitarian missions like food drops and search and rescue flights, but said his country is "not ready yet" to allow the U.S. military to be based here "as an offensive force against Afghanistan."
Karimov met Friday with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who promised the Uzbek leader a long relationship between the two countries. He said he may reconsider allocating further air bases and accommodating ground troops once "the consequences of the land attack are being considered."
Uzbekistan shares an 80-mile (129-kilometer) border with Afghanistan, where suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden has been living as a guest of the ruling Taliban movement. The United States holds bin Laden responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Pentagon officials told CNN that about 1,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division are expected to arrive Friday in Uzbekistan to provide security at the airfield. The unit, based at Fort Drum, New York, trained in Uzbekistan in 1997 and 1998.
As those troops headed overseas, Rumsfeld headed home after a four-day, five-nation trip to shore up support for the anti-terrorism coalition the United States has tried to assemble since the attacks.
He added a stop in the Turkish capital Ankara to his trip Friday, meeting with Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and top defense officials of that NATO ally. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration recognizes that not every country could offer the same level of assistance to a U.S.-led battle against terrorism.
"Some will do it publicly, some will do it privately. Each will do it in their own way, and it will all be helpful," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld's trip included stops in Saudi Arabia; in Oman, which is buying 12 F-16 fighter jets and associated weapons and other support equipment; and in Egypt, where he met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, another key Arab ally.
In the past several weeks, leaders from the Middle East and Central Asia have told the Bush administration they need to be convinced that any U.S. military action will not be what one senior U.S. official involved in such meetings termed a "flash in the pan."
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