Tuesday October 9, 11:52 AM
Tajikistan bars U.S. troops from its soil
By Elizabeth Piper
DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Ex-Soviet Tajikistan has put limits on its agreement to help U.S.-led strikes in neighbouring Afghanistan, saying it has no plans to allow U.S. troops on its territory.
Tajikistan and other central Asian states have become the focus of considerable speculation as Washington moves into the third day of its bombing campaign to root out Osama bin Laden, blamed for last month's attacks on the United States.
"American land troops have not and are not passing through Tajikistan to Afghanistan," Amirkul Azimov, secretary of Tajikistan's security council, told reporters on Tuesday.
"American specialists are here and are considering how to distribute humanitarian aid...The question (of land troops) has not been considered."
On Monday, Tajikistan made its first government statement on the U.S. campaign, expressing readiness "to open its airspace to the U.S. airforce and, should it prove necessary, its airports for carrying out measures against terrorism".
Security chiefs of Tajikistan, Russia and four ex-Soviet republics were wrapping up talks in Dushanbe on tightening border security ahead of any influx of Afghan refugees.
The other states, part of a collective security treaty tied to the Commonwealth of Independent States are the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus and Armenia.
Tajikistan is the poorest of the ex-Soviet republics, with a 1,300-km (815-mile) long border with Afghanistan, far longer than either Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. It hosts up to 20,000 Russian troops to maintain stability after a 1992-97 civil war pitting the secular government against Islamist opponents.
BASES FOR HUMANITARIAN AID
Azimov said Tajikistan's air bases would be used for distributing humanitarian aid but not necessarily for future U.S. action in Afghanistan, where bin Laden has been sheltered by the hardline Muslim Taliban movement.
Neighbouring Uzbekistan, like Tajikistan largely Muslim, has made an airport available to U.S. forces but said it would only be used for humanitarian or rescue missions in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials last week said 1,000 U.S. light infantry troops were on their way to Uzbekistan.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon planned to send a significant number of additional ground troops to the Middle East and Central Asia for the second phase of its military campaign in Afghanistan at the end of the week.
Tajikistan was swift to support the air strikes after they got under way on Sunday, saying the country had "more than once suffered from terrorism".
But a Defence Ministry official said this week that Tajikistan had no wish to "get involved in any kind of conflict or military action in other countries..."
A spokesman for Russian troops patrolling Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan said he had heard the strikes against Afghanistan, but there had been no shooting close to the border.
"It has been quiet...we
have increased our numbers here but not by a significant amount,"
he told Reuters.