Saturday, June 18, 2005

Uzbek Troops American-Trained

Well I guess the Pentagon's refusal to support a full, fair investigation into the May 13 Andjian massacre in Uzbekistan shouldn't be all that surprising after all. According to Saturday's New York Times, it's not just the loss of basing rights the Defense Department is concerned with, but also scrutiny of those Uzbek military, police, and intelligence units involved in the crackdown. Why should the American military be concerned about an investigation looking into which military units were involved in the murder of unarmed civilians?

Well, turns out some of those units may have been trained by the United States. As C.J. Chivers and Tom Shanker report in the Times, the United States has for years provided equipment and training to the Uzbek military, intelligence service, and Ministry of Internal Affairs (the national police) - "at least hundreds of special forces soldiers and security officers, many of whom fight terrorism, have received training."

Since the crackdown, in which hundreds of civilians were killed by government troops, questions have been raised about the role of U.S.-trained units in the attacks. The Bush Administration has maintained that no evidence exists linking troops trained in American-sponsored programs with the massacre, but Chivers and Shanker quote "several United States officials" as saying "they were not certain that no American-trained personnel were present."

All the more reason for an investigation into the Andjian events, right? So says the State Department: spokesman Tom Casey told the Times "Until Uzbek authorities allow an independent and credible investigation to occur, we cannot know who was responsible or was involved." The Pentagon, however, continues to resist calls for an investigation, going so far as to block a NATO attempt last week that would have created a panel to look into the massacre.

The Chivers-Shanker piece contains details of the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and CIA aid, as well as training, we've invested in the Uzbek government. I do not, in principle, disagree with the idea of providing counterterrorism assistance and training to our allies around the world: that is a vital element of the war against terrorism which I fully support. I do not believe, however, that we ought to be providing repressive regimes like the Karimov government with tools and experience that contributes to the deaths of innocent civilians.

Senators McCain, Leahy, Lieberman, DeWine, Graham and Sununu were absolutely right in their letter of ten days ago, when they requested Administration backing for an investigation into the attacks as well as an examination of which US-trained units were involved. They concluded their letter by noting "We appreciate that these are difficult questions that cut to the heart of our relationship with the government in this strategically important region. But we also believe that, in the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, America's relationship with Uzbekistan cannot remain unchanged."

It cannot, and it must not. It is well past time for the Pentagon to get on board with the State Department's calls for a full, fair, and independent investigation into Andjian. If the Karimov government gets away with its actions this time, it is only a question of when another massacre will occur.


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