Monday, June 18, 2012

Update: U.S. military transfers to Central Asia

The Pentagon is finalizing the details of a major arms gift to Uzbekistan, Kyrgzstan, and Tajikistan, the states involved with the Northern Distribution Network.  A leading Russian newspaper, Kommersant:
Cited “well informed sources” as saying the three Central Asian states – all of them members of the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organization – would be given armored vehicles, tank transporters, prime movers, tank trucks, special-purpose graders, bulldozers and water trucks after US and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. Some of this equipment would reportedly be stored at local installations. In addition, the Pentagon plans to provide Afghanistan’s neighbors with medical equipment, communications systems, fire extinguishing equipment and even mobile gyms and other housing-related facilities.
In the short term, these weapon transfers are designed to secure better transit rates for the Northern Distribution Network, especially as U.S. supplies are increasingly reverse running the route.  As 2014 approaches ever closer (or if that date gets pushed up by political considerations or disasters on the ground) the Pentagon will need to move more and more supplies out of Afghanistan.  By giving the Uzbeks and others a small treasure chest of armaments, Washington hopes to grease the wheels of this process.

However, in the long term this is merely a continuation of U.S. policy to gain military influence in Central Asia, which began as soon as the states gained independence from the USSR in 1992.  Throughout the 1990's, this process slowly hummed along, with Central Asian states participating in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" military training program.  After 9/11, the Pentagon's ties to the region saw an immediate uptick, as within months of the attack and the subsequent Afghanistan invasion  military bases were opened in Kyrgzstan and Uzbekistan.  The 2003 invasion of Iraq distracted U.S. strategists, however by 2007 their attention was back on Central Asia.
Source: "Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan," Senate Foreign Relation Committee Report, 12/19/11

The main opposition to U.S. influence in the region comes from Russia, and to a lesser extent China, both of which see Central Asia as within their Sphere of Influence.  Through institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Beijing and Moscow are working to make sure that Central Asian leaders don't grow to close to Washington.  Notice that none of the region's leaders accepted their invitations to the recent NATO summit in Chicago.  The SCO position seems to be to facilitate the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan, and then to step in and gain control over the postwar environment.

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