MOSCOW (Reuters) - Uzbekistan will allow U.S. nationals to use its Termez airbase under strict conditions, officials said on Wednesday, almost three years after ordering out U.S. troops in a row over human rights.
Robert Simmons, NATO’s envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said Uzbekistan had agreed to allow limited numbers of U.S. staff to use the facility near Afghanistan, which was once used by Soviet forces and currently operated by Germany.
“We welcome the fact Uzbekistan has shown readiness to allow other countries to use this airbase,” he was quoted as saying in Moscow by Russian news agencies. “As far as I understand, the United States is beginning to use this facility.”
The U.S. embassy in Tashkent said that under the arrangement US staff would use Termez only as part of wider NATO operations in Afghanistan.
“Individual Americans attached to the NATO International Staff can use the German air-bridge from Termez to Afghanistan on a case-by-case basis,” the embassy said in a statement sent to Reuters. It did not elaborate.
The United States originally set up camp at another Uzbek airbase, known as K2, to run operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, when Uzbekistan was an ally in the U.S.-declared war against terrorism.
But Uzbekistan ordered all U.S. troops out of the country in 2005 when the West condemned it for firing on protesters in the town of Andizhan. Only German personnel at Termez were allowed to stay in the country.
Witnesses said hundreds of people were killed when troops opened fire on Andizhan protesters in 2005. Uzbekistan blamed the violence on Islamist rebels and has accused the West of interfering in his domestic affairs.
U.S. Admiral William Fallon visited Tashkent in January in a first high-level attempt to mend ties since 2005. It was unclear if the Termez arrangement was agreed then.
Uzbekistan’s government has made no public statements pointing to a shift in its position on U.S. troops.
A Western diplomat in Tashkent said the Termez deal involved allowing U.S. military personnel to use the base as a transit point on their way to and from Afghanistan.
“I understand...U.S. soldiers will be able to fly via Termez but only aboard German aircraft,” the diplomat said. “I don’t know if there are any similar agreements with other nations.”
Moscow takes a dim view of any U.S. military presence in Central Asia and has accused Washington of sparking a new arms race by beefing up its military presence around Russia.
Additional reporting by Shamil Baigin; Editing by Jon Boyle