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U.S. Courts Central Asian Nations to Combat Potential Terrorism From Afghanistan

U.S. Courts Central Asian Nations to Combat Potential Terrorism From Afghanistan #Courts #Central #Asian #Nations #Combat #Potential #Terrorism #Afghanistan Welcome to Lopoid

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan—The U.S. is stepping carefully into Central Asia—an area Russia regards as its backyard—hoping to coax the governments there to work with the U.S. to fight any resurgent terrorism from Afghanistan, according to a senior American military leader.

Though the Central Asian states may fear antagonizing Moscow, they also worry about the threat from their neighbor, Afghanistan.

“Their top three concerns are Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan,” said Army Gen.

Erik Kurilla,

who heads the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., while traveling on a military aircraft on a tour of the region last week.

“What I see in these Central Asian countries is opportunities,” said Gen. Kurilla. Part of his effort to show a growing American commitment in the region included donning traditional hats, watching a dead goat be dragged from one end of a playing field to another, and eating medallions of dark horse meat, a local staple.

Afghanistan has spiraled into near-universal poverty since the Taliban took over. Under international sanctions, the price of basic goods has surged and drought is worsening food insecurity. WSJ’s Margherita Stancati reports. Video/Photo: Paula Bronstein for WSJ

“For a very small investment, and one of those investments is time, and senior leaders coming through, you can get a big return on investment,” he said.

Since the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan last summer after the Biden administration withdrew all American troops, the U.S. military has been looking for ways to keep a lid on groups such as al Qaeda and the Afghanistan branch of Islamic State. That could include expanding intelligence networks, especially with countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Ultimately, it could mean an American drone base in the region.

Without American troops on the ground to collect intelligence or, if necessary, call in airstrikes, the military worries it has few tools to contain militant activity. The U.S. surveillance and armed drones and other aircraft based hundreds of miles away in the Gulf—or what the military calls “over the horizon capability”—has a limited effect, U.S. military officials say.

In August, before the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary

Lloyd Austin

warned that terrorism there could pose a threat to American interests within two years. But many Central Asian nations, which share long, porous borders with Afghanistan, fear a more imminent threat amid a food shortage and an economic crisis.

Gen. Erik Kurilla’s 10-day tour through Central Asia included stops in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Photo:

Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Gen. Kurilla said that despite limited intelligence, the U.S. is already seeing the re-establishment of terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan, but declined to provide additional details.

Central Asia’s proximity to Afghanistan makes it an obvious choice for even a small base for surveillance drones or other aircraft to monitor the country. But many U.S. officials concluded that the geopolitical realities facing countries here have made such a base unlikely.

An opening might have emerged after Russian President

Vladimir Putin’s

invasion of Ukraine. Gen. Kurilla said he didn’t raise the issue of a base in his meetings with top leaders on his 10-day tour through the region that included stops in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But the U.S. might find other ways to deepen security ties here, including military training, technology to help tighten borders, and enhanced intelligence-sharing, officials said.

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However, Russia looms large. In response to Moscow’s invasion, some countries have stayed neutral while others have carefully condemned it. All are mindful of the importance of not antagonizing Russia.

“I think it’s a very uncomfortable position or situation to make a choice in,” said Emil Dzhuraev, an independent researcher formerly with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “In the end, the problem with geopolitics that we have is that you cannot just take your things and go across the Atlantic. You have to live next to Russia.”

Central Asian nations want to work with the U.S. but they worry that the U.S. won’t necessarily stick with them for the long term, he said.

“I think nearly all Central Asian countries are hesitant about any sort of shift because the U.S., or the West in general, is not a reliable fallback option in the face of a blowback from Russia for any misbehavior,” Mr. Dzhuraev said.

Each country has a different set of issues. Uzbekistan, for example, is concerned about terrorism inside Afghanistan, but it must act cautiously, as it strengthens its own ties with the Taliban leadership and tries to be an interlocutor of sorts for other nations to engage the government in Afghanistan.

Officials in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, won’t consider hosting a drone base for the U.S., according to the country’s envoy to Afghanistan.

Photo:

Cai Guodong/Xinhua/Getty Images

Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, won’t consider hosting a drone base for the U.S., even if it considers Washington to be a strategic partner, said Ismatilla Irgashev, Uzbekistan’s envoy to Afghanistan. “We cannot accept any military bases or military infrastructure that would be located on the territory of Uzbekistan,” he said through a translator. “But this in no way diminishes our mutual understanding with the U.S. and support in terms of terrorism.”

And not every country sees the same urgency of the terrorist threat in the region.

“They still feel as if they are walking on this tightrope of not wanting to do something that will provoke or anger Russia,” a senior State Department official said. “I think it will be a sea change over time in their view over where to go to get help.”

Gen. Kurilla maintains the U.S. is invested in the region and that by taking it slow, the U.S. can build trust by listening to the issues leaders here must confront. He and his wife, Mary Paige, demonstrated American interest by attending cultural events at each stop, including a game of Buzkashi, the traditional equestrian sport in Uzbekistan in which a dead goat is rushed from one end of a dusty field to another.

If success is enhanced cooperation with the nations here—expanded intelligence networks, more military exchanges, or even a more formal security relationship—that could allow the U.S. to launch drones from the region. But that will take time.

“This is going to be a very nuanced approach, with a nuanced policy,” Gen. Kurilla said. “And we are going to have to be very patient and it will be incremental gains, not a tidal wave.”

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

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