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WASHINGTON – As U.S. troops make plans to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a door is opening for them to remain in the region in five neighboring countries of Central Asia, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
That’s because as the U.S. and NATO troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, the five neighbors are preparing to reinforce their own borders with U.S. help against the prospect of transnational terrorist activities.
Moscow now is expressing concern as they see the U.S. establish a more permanent presence in the region they regard as their sphere of influence.
The Central Asian countries are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which were part of the Soviet Union before its breakup in 1991.
In Afghanistan, the formal U.S. troop pullout doesn’t mean all U.S. troops will be out.
Some will be deployed for continued training of the Afghan army and its police forces. There’s even talk that the troops will be positioned at outposts around the country for these purposes.
But neighbors are concerned. Already, Kyrgyzstan has begun to establish more border guard stations along its borders through which the Islamic Muslims of Uzbekistan have infiltrated to spread through the other Central Asian countries.
In fact, the U.S. will assist in financing the construction of six such facilities in Kyrgyzstan, although U.S. troops will not be stationed at those locations. In addition, the U.S. also is constructing a $5.5 million anti-terrorist training center that will be used by all forces throughout the Central Asian countries.
The prospect of U.S. military construction in Kyrgyzstan and in the other Central Asian countries hasn’t gone unnoticed by Moscow.
Russian officials have been conflicted with the general presence of the U.S. in the area. Originally, Russians didn’t want to see U.S. and NATO expansion in the region. Yet, Russian officials have come to support U.S. presence in Afghanistan, since it has meant the commitment and use of U.S. resources to fight jihadists who ultimately would be a threat to Russia proper.
With the decrease in U.S. troop presence, Moscow doesn’t want to see any permanent U.S. bases built, since it sees its role as providing security for the region. Yet, it’s not against U.S. commitment of its own resources to bolster the borders of the Central Asian countries against the terrorists that would pose a threat to the Russian homeland, so long as U.S. troops aren’t permanently stationed, which could be the case in Kyrgyzstan.
For that reason, the Kremlin isn’t opposed to the U.S. construction of the counter-terrorism center there. That would parallel its own self-interest in deterring the transiting of jihadists. The Russians were going to build a counter-terrorism center in southern Kyrgyzstan and station troops there at the same time, but officials in neighboring Uzbekistan were opposed.
Yet, the Uzbeks welcome U.S. counter-terrorism assistance, since they take the U.S. at its word that it won’t base U.S. troops next door.
The U.S. priority appears to be evolving in improving border security not only in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan but also Tajikistan, due to the concern that U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead to a rise of insurgents in their homeland.
Kazakhstan officials, however, aren’t so sure that that the U.S. doesn’t have designs of positioning troops at various locations throughout the region, although that appears to be more acceptable to Central Asian officials than the U.S. establishing major bases in the region.
For its part, Kazakhstan will be reinforcing its borders with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan not only from insurgent infiltration but also against the high level of smuggling that goes on in the region.
Reinforcing these borders will pose some issues for Moscow as newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin presses his Eurasian Union, which is to be a customs-free effort to bring these countries closer together under the Kremlin’s leadership.
Kazakhstan could be a main impediment to Putin’s Eurasian Union design, which he envisions ultimately competing with the European Union economically. At the same time, the security environment with both Russian and U.S. influence in the region ultimately could complement rather than conflict with each other.
NATO’s eastward expansion will be halted with its departure from Afghanistan, and to the Russians’ apparent approval, the Western security alliance will be gone.
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