ISN SECURITY WATCH (24/11/05) --
The Uzbek authorities' decision to expel NATO troops from its territory
by 1 January is being viewed as a direct reaction to an EU arms embargo
and Western criticism of the government's brutal crackdown in May on demonstrators
in the city of Andijan.
The Uzbek government has said the alliance could no longer use Uzbek airspace or bases for operations in neighboring Afghanistan, effective at the beginning of the year.
NATO sources told ISN Security Watch that the Uzbek government several days ago asked five European NATO members states - Belgium, Britain, Germany, Spain, and France - to cease all operations in Uzbekistan.
Germany and the US are the only NATO nations currently using Uzbek ground territory for the Afghanistan mission.
Germany uses a military base on the Uzbek-Afghan border, while the US has been using Uzbekistan's Khanabad air base, which it has already quit.
Germany, which has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. German forces use an air staging unit in Termez, in southern Uzbekistan, for support and logistics in Afghanistan.
The announcement comes only one day after the US military withdrew from the Khanabad air base after Uzbek President Islam Karimov requested US troops leave the base - a decision that followed Washington's harsh criticism of the Uzbek authorities' brutal crackdown on demonstrators in Andijan.
NATO officials on Thursday said other alternatives would be found by the nations concerned, and that the ISAF mission in Afghanistan would not be interrupted.
NATO took over command and coordination of the ISAF in August 2003. There are currently 12,400 troops from 35 countries serving in the mission.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai told ISN Security Watch on Thursday that Uzbekistan's request would not affect NATO directly, but would affect individual members states contributing to the ISAF.
"NATO has no specific arrangements with Uzbekistan. Member nations have," Appathurai said, adding that the Uzbek government had addressed individual NATO members, rather than the alliance itself.
The Uzbek decision to expel NATO troops comes in response to Western condemnation of the Uzbek security forces' actions in Andijan.
While the Uzbek authorities claim that 187 "terrorists" were shot dead by state forces trying to crush a demonstration in Andijan, human rights groups say that at least 500 demonstrators were killed.
Tashkent's decision also comes only days after the EU, on 14 November, announced it would impose an arms embargo on the country and bar 12 senior Uzbek officials from entering EU countries.
Uzbekistan has been developing its cooperation with NATO since it became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in December 1991, and the Uzbek government's decision could jeopardize those relations.
In July 1994, Uzbekistan signed the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Framework Document, designed to promote defense reform, and in August 1995.
Uzbekistan has actively participated in the activities organized in the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and the PFP. Since 1996, Uzbekistan has participated in joint exercises with NATO countries.
Early this month, members of Britain's House of Commons launched a campaign asking NATO to suspend PfP relations with Uzbekistan in light of the Andijan incident.
While NATO spokesman Appathurai said "there are no discussions on suspension of the PfP" with Uzbekistan at the moment, he did say that because of the Andijan issue, the alliance was keeping a low level of relations with the Uzbek authorities.
He said NATO had recently "suspended several meetings and arrangements" with Uzbekistan.
In the meantime, some observers have said the Uzbek move could push it closer to Russia. Earlier this month, Uzbekistan and Russia signed a treaty paving the way for Russian military deployment in the former Soviet satellite.
But officials in Moscow have denied rumors that Russia is seeking to house a second military base on Uzbek territory.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Thursday that Russia was not planning to build another military base in Uzbekistan. Russia "has an airbase in Kant, it is developing and we do not need other bases", Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.
(By Ekrem Krasniqi in Brussels)