Sunday, July 31, 2005

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The revolution in basing affairs?

On the one hand, Donald Rumseld and the DoD have been engaged in a multi-year plan to reorganize and reposition the U.S. military. According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the repositioning of 50,000 U.S. troops from Korea and Germany back to the United States is complete.

On the other hand, Maura Reynolds and David Holley report in the Los Angeles Times that some countries are requesting that U.S. forces leave ahead of schedule:

Uzbekistan has issued an eviction notice to a U.S. air base that has been used since 2001 to stage military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Saturday.

The notice, delivered Friday to the U.S. Embassy in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, gives the United States six months to comply, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said.

"The bottom line is, they want us out," he said.

The Uzbek government has increasingly bristled at the U.S. military presence, especially since the State Department joined international allies in calling for an inquiry into the shooting deaths of protesters during a rally in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May....

Anticipating eviction by Uzbekistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won pledges from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week to let the United States continue using airfields there for operations in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan does not border Afghanistan, and Tajikistan's roads into the country are poor, but Rumsfeld expressed optimism that those more distant bases would be adequate should Uzbekistan carry through on its threat to evict U.S. forces.

"We're always thinking ahead. We'll be fine," Rumsfeld said on a tour of Central Asia.

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Sappenfield suggests that these recent developments suggest the complexity of fighting a global war on terror:

As the Pentagon transforms its military to meet the more flexible needs of the war on terror, it has also begun to recast the footprint of its overseas bases, and nowhere has this been more obvious than in the remote Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

For more than three years, they have allowed the United States to use a pair of austere airfields to provide crucial support for troops in Afghanistan, and they have served as models of how America will wage its wars in the future. Yet even as Kyrgyzstan reaffirmed its commitment to the United States for the duration of the Afghan war last week, Uzbekistan sent US forces an eviction notice.

It is a glimpse of what awaits the Pentagon as it spreads beyond the stability of cold-war bases in Europe and the Far East. New alliances with nations from Southeast Asia to the Horn of Africa promise quick access to the remotest corners of the globe, but they could increasingly link American security to the whims of fickle allies and controversial regimes.

"We're going to be fighting this global war against irregular forces in much different places than we were willing to fight in the past," says Robert Work, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments here. "And in [these places] there are no long-term allies."

Another way of interpreting the data is that the administration is actually willing to put its emphasis on democracy promotion front and center, even in regions considered of geostrategic importance. The willingness to leave nondemocratic Uzbekistan while maintaining bases in democratizing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan suggests that the U.S. is recalculating the requirements to be a long-term partner of the U.S. (This, by the way, would contradict what I wrote in Diplomatic History last month.)

The LAT report suggests that the Uzbeks might just be bargaining, so we'll see how this unfolds.


UPDATE: Austin Bay has more on Uzbekistan, although, again, I'll be interested to see if whether the U.S. and the Uzbeks wind up cutting a deal.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jonathan Caverley has cogent thoughts about this over at Intel Dump -- now if only he'd listen to me about other things.

posted by Dan on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM


these recent developments suggest the complexity of fighting a global war on terror

Didn't you get the memo? It's Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism now.

posted by: anno-nymous on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

So that means if they are not with us, they're against us. It would be convenient if the protestors would form a government that would be "with us."

posted by: Ernie Oporto on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

Ahem. It's GSAEF now- A Global Struggle Against the Enemies of Freedom.

Freedom is, of course, relative. Very relative.

posted by: a nonny mus on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

Does anyone know why the USA cannot rely solely on air bases in Afghanistan itself for its Afghan operations? Common sense would indicate that bases in Afghanistan itself would be closest to the battlefields and major camps. And the US army corps of engineers should not have major difficulties in building new air bases. So what are the advantages of an Uzbeki airbase? Better security?

posted by: Harmen on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

Yes, security and logistics. Both aircraft and stocks of humanitarian relief supplies require much less security in Uzbekistan than at Bagram. Flying missions into Afghanistan is easier from Uzbekistan than from other countries in the area, and the roads into northern Afghanistan from Uzbekistan are also better than the ones from the Kabul area. So losing the K2 facility will be an inconvenience.

In terms of America's global mission there may be less here than meets the eye. A democratic Uzbekistan is not that important to us, never has been, never will be. There are degrees of undemocratic-ness, however, and wholesale massacres of unarmed demonstrators fall well outside the boundaries of what the United States can accept in an allied government. The unfortunate public relations aspect aside, governments willing to overreact to this degree sooner or later become magnets for terrorism themselves, and we really don't need that headache. I could see the Pentagon willing to negotiate an extra six months or so for the K2 base in exchange for Uzbek undertakings not to gun down too many more people, but that's about it. Rumsfeld says we are prepared, and I hope he's right.

posted by: Zathras on 07.31.05 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

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