Options Limited as US Seeks Post-Afghanistan Drone Bases

Image: Options Limited as US Seeks Post-Afghanistan Drone Bases U.S. soldiers watch a UAV fly overhead from the courtyard of their combat outpost in the Sabari district of Khost Province along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Monday, 17 Feb 2014 07:33 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The United States has few good alternate base options for its drone strike force if it is compelled to pull its forces out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014, Stars and Stripes has reported.

The drones are a major element in the U.S. arsenal against Islamist militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan that threaten American security. Drone operations require secure bases, on-the-ground human intelligence, and logistical support within range of their targets.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other officials have been traveling in the region seeking drone base options. Publicly, he said only that the U.S. was looking for allies to work with, according to Stars and Stripes.

In addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan is bordered by ex-Soviet republics Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Russia does not want to see American bases on its former territory.

A U.S. air base in Uzbekistan was closed in 2005, according to Brian Glyn Williams, author of "Predators: The CIA's Drone War on Al Qaeda," Stars and Stripes reported. While the country might be willing to host a base and is less under Russian pressure, its spotty human rights record makes it a problematic option, according to the Bug Pit blog which tracks events in the region.

The commander of U.S. special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, visited Tajikistan to discuss "continued military cooperation," according to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in that country, Stars and Stripes reported.

Tajikistan is believed to be prone to Russian pressure, according to Bug Pit.

Turkmenistan also has human rights issues that would complicate a relationship with the U.S. and considers itself neutral in the region, according to Bug Pit.

There is also an American base in comparatively nearby Kyrgyzstan, which does not share a border with Afghanistan or Pakistan, but this base is to be relocated to Romania, according to Stars and Stripes.

The Pentagon might also be interested in basing drones on India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, according to the Indian Punchline blog, but this would generate strong domestic opposition.


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