U-S officials say one-thousand American troops are on their way to Uzbekistan in the first major deployment of U-S ground forces in areas bordering Afghanistan, where accused terrorist Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
Word of the deployment came from an official traveling with U-S Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who visited Uzbekistan and Turkey today (Friday), before heading back to Washington. Mr. Rumsfeld's trip aimed at mustering support for the U-S-led coalition against terrorism, also took him to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Before leaving Ankara, the U-S defense secretary thanked Turkey for its backing of U-S efforts against terrorism. He said the United States sees terrorism as a worldwide problem, and that each country must make its own judgment as to what is the best way to deal with it.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Rumsfeld was in Uzbekistan, where he secured permission for U-S forces to use one air base in the country. The senior U-S official said the purpose of the U-S troops there will be to provide protection for other U-S forces in the region.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the air field can be used for search and rescue missions. But he said he would not allow the use of Uzbek territory to launch ground attacks or air raids against Afghanistan's Taleban militia.
Mr. Rumsfeld was in Uzbekistan as part of an intense global diplomatic effort to prepare the way for an expected showdown with Afghanistan. The ruling Taleban movement has refused to give up Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.