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Vinci: Uzbekistan air base shrouded in secrecy


(CNN) -- Pentagon sources said Tuesday more than 1,000 U.S. troops, including special operations forces, are at the Khanabad military base near Karshi, Uzbekistan, roughly 100 miles north of Afghanistan. Alessio Vinci, CNN's bureau chief in Rome, has been trying to get additional information on what the troops are preparing to do there.

VINCI: Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov agreed to allow the U.S. military to use the air base near Karshi only for humanitarian missions. When a reporter asked him why he would not allow U.S. troops to be involved in more lethal operations, he said his country was not ready yet. But he did leave some room for maneuvering perhaps, suggesting he would allow those troops to be deployed here for more ground operations in Afghanistan.

Karimov also said he was not going to investigate very much into what kind of troops were going to be deployed here, [saying] again that -- perhaps only for public opinion -- he did not want to allow U.S. troops to be deployed here for strikes against Afghanistan, and [that they were being allowed here] only for humanitarian missions.

CNN: How close are you permitted to be to this base near Karshi?

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VINCI: We are about five miles from the air base. Between us and the air base, there are three layers of security. The first two layers we believe are the Uzbek forces, and the last layer around the base is being set up by the U.S. military.

So it is very, very hard for us to get a sense about what is happening inside the base. Any kind of contacts we are trying to establish with people who work at the base have been unsuccessful so far.

It is extremely hard to talk to people here. They are extremely afraid to address the issue. We reported it's a very sensitive issue here, and people are very much afraid to disclose details about what it is like inside the military base.

What we can only do here is basically just listen to the noise of the planes taking off .... Early today we saw a C-130 flying over the city, perhaps landing at the ... base. But we can't really get near and try to get a sense about what is happening.

We don't even know if some of the special troops mentioned earlier are already involved in the military portion that is under way in Afghanistan.

We heard also from sources in the United States that President Bush might be thinking about involving ground troops into this fight. Those could be the ones deployed here in Uzbekistan, but there's no way for us to find out.

The officials here are remaining extremely tight-lipped. They don't want to share any kind of information, not only with domestic reporters but also with the international press.


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