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Tajik president: If needed, U.S. military may use bases

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (CNN) -- Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmonov said Wednesday the United States may use two of his country's airfields if they are needed for the military campaign in Afghanistan.

"Technical capacities of three Tajik airfields are being checked," Rakhmonov told a news conference, according to an Interfax news agency report. He said a U.S. military team is looking at airfields in Khodzhent, Kurgan-Tybe, and Kulyab.

The Tajik president said the condition of these airfields "leaves much to be desired," but said if the U.S. military finds them fit to use, "one or possibly even two of these airfields will be allotted."

Rakhmonov said Tajikistan could also provide its military hospital for treating fighters from the Northern Alliance, Afghan civilians and any U.S. personnel engaged in the military campaign.

"It is no secret that we have supported the Northern Alliance for six or seven years, and we will support it now," Rakhmonov said, adding that "we have a hospital where not only Northern Alliance fighters, but also Afghan citizens and any people needing aid are being treated."

Tajikistan has a 750-mile (1,200-kilometer) border with Afghanistan. It has backed the U.S.-led campaign against Afghanistan's Taliban but so far, its only direct help to the campaign has been allowing the use of its airspace for planes carrying humanitarian aid.

On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military hopes to use three bases in the former Soviet republic to launch attack and supply missions on Afghanistan.

"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, burn less fuel and 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."

On Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Tajik officials as part of a weekend trip that also included stops in Russia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India.

After meeting with Rumsfeld, 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.

Neighboring Uzbekistan, also a former Soviet republic, 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.


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