U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld travels to Uzbekistan today, as part of a whirlwind tour of countries crucial to a U.S. attack on Afghanistan.
The Knight Ridder newswire reports that Uzbekistan late yesterday agreed to allow U.S. combat troops to use bases onits territory. According to a senior administration official involved in planning the military operation Air Forcesearch-and-rescue crews and about 1,000 soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division will be deployed in theformer Soviet republic on Afghanistan’s northern border.
But some Muslim leaders, even those friendly to the U.S., fear a violent reaction from their citizens, and have toldAmerican officials that they cannot fully back a U.S.-led military strike.
And human rights groups fear that, in return for military cooperation, the United States will soften its criticism ofUzbekistan’s human rights abuses.
Susan Glasser reports for The Washington Post that more than 7,000 political prisoners are in jail inUzbekistan, many of them religious Muslims accused of no more than growing a beard or circulating religious leaflets.The political opposition has been thoroughly crushed. There is no independent mass media. And the few who do speakout are routinely beaten, harassed, arrested or driven into exile.
- Susan B. Glasser, Moscow Bureau Chief with The Washington Post. She is currently in Tashkent,Uzbekistan.