U.S. hopes to use Tajikistan bases
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon hopes to use three bases in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan to launch attack and supply missions on Afghanistan, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
"We would hope to have a capability to get access to Afghanistan from the north and the south," Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said.
Bases in Tajikistan would allow U.S. pilots to hit their targets more quickly, burning less fuel, and would give resupply missions a shorter turnaround time, Stufflebeem said. A U.S. assessment team was in Tajikistan to determine whether the bases would meet those needs.
"Airfields closer to Afghanistan would give us an advantage in trying to generate sorties," Stufflebeem said. But "until they've reported out, I just don't know what the condition of those airfields are."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that Tajikistan had offered to allow U.S. teams to inspect their facilities. Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said U.S. military planes could fly over Tajik airspace and said the use of Tajikistan's airfields could be allowed.
Rumsfeld met with Tajik officials as part of a weekend trip that also included stops in Russia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India.
Neighboring Uzbekistan has agreed to allow U.S. forces to use an air base there for humanitarian and rescue missions. About 1,000 U.S. troops are believed to be stationed at Khanabad air base, near the southern city of Karshi.
Tajik authorities have so far said little about the extent of their cooperation with the campaign against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. The Taliban are believed to be harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
A contingent of U.S. special operations troops are in Afghanistan helping coordinate airstrikes and resupply efforts. At the same time, the opposition Northern Alliance is battling Taliban troops for control of the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a strategic point along roads to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
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