Wednesday, July 6, 2005
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, July 5 -- A regional alliance led by China and Russia called Tuesday for the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan to set a date for withdrawing from several Central Asian nations, reflecting a growing unease over the U.S. military presence in the region.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, composed of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, urged that a deadline be set for withdrawal of foreign forces from its member states in light of what it said was a decline in active fighting in Afghanistan.
The alliance's move appeared to be an attempt to curb U.S. influence in a region that Russia regards as historically part of its sphere and in which China seeks a dominant role because of its extensive energy resources.
The United States rejected the call for a deadline. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. military presence "is determined by the terms of our bilateral agreements."
Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said that, regarding U.S. bases in Uzbekistan, "it's a decision the Uzbek government has to make as to whether or not we would continue to operate from that."
U.S. military forces have been deployed at air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to support military operations in Afghanistan since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. At least 800 U.S. troops are stationed in Uzbekistan and 1,200 U.S.-led troops are in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. military said.
Tajikistan has allowed the French air force to use the Dushanbe airport since 2001 as a base for logistical support of its troops in Afghanistan. About 200 French air force personnel are based there.
"We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilize the situation," the Shanghai Cooperation Organization said in a declaration at a summit in the Kazakh capital.
"As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition's members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents' presence in those countries," it said.
Earlier Tuesday, the group's leaders accused unnamed outside forces of trying to destabilize Central Asia.