One thousand elite U.S. infantry troops have been ordered to Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation that borders Afghanistan. The announcement comes during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who is on a tour to build support for the U.S. led campaign against terrorism.
U.S. officials say that 1,000 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division are on their way to Uzbekistan. Word of the deployment came from an official arriving in the Central Asian nation with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The troops have been on alert for a possible deployment in the region since shortly after terror attacks in the United States last month.
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov had already given the United States permission to use his country's airspace. Now, Washington has won agreement to station American ground forces in Uzbekistan, which shares a 137-kilometer long border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld has acknowledged that the United States has had only limited dealings with Uzbekistan, but the two countries have held several discussions in recent days.
It was from Uzbekistan that Soviet troops launched their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They left in defeat by the same route 10 years later.
President Karimov is a former senior Communist Party official who became president during the Soviet era and was later elected president of an independent Uzbekistan. Since the mid-1990s he has run an authoritarian government that allows little dissent.
Mr. Karimov has said his strict crackdown on non-state sanctioned Islamic groups is necessary to avoid ethnic conflict and to build his young nation. Uzbekistan has had poor relations with the West due to allegations of human rights abuses and resistance to economic liberalization.
Secretary Rumsfeld held talks earlier this week with Sultan Qaboos of Oman and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He has been seeking to bolster support in countries where there are worries that U.S. military action might not be limited to Afghanistan and could extend to Iraq, a prospect Arab leaders would find difficult to support.
Secretary Rumsfeld is also to visit Turkey on Friday before returning to the United States. Diplomatic efforts will continue, however, with Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith expected to stay on with visits to Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain.