Uzbekistan is one of the nations that lies along Afghanistan's northern border. It may also be the United States' most important ally in Central Asia.
Though its border with Afghanistan is only 85 miles long, Uzbekistan offers positions from which military raids can be launched on the Taliban (see "What Is The Taliban?"). It is also a key location from which the opposition Northern Alliance (see "What Is The Northern Alliance?") troops can be re-supplied.
Unlike other lukewarm U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state, is an unequivocal backer of American efforts to oust the Taliban and find Osama bin Laden. Uzbekistan has welcomed U.S. forces to launch air attacks from bases within its borders. As of October 22, there are believed to be search-and-rescue Special Operations (see "What Are Special Ops?") units in Uzbekistan. There are also rumored to be as many as several thousand Special Ops combat units in Uzbekistan. (Both reports come via the New York Times; the Pentagon will not confirm or deny these reports for security purposes.)
Though 90 percent of Uzbekistan's 25 million people are Muslim, the country is ruled by a strictly secular regime. Islamic extremists with ties to the Taliban and to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network have waged an insurgent campaign against the government and its dictator, President Islam Karimov, which helps explain Karimov's outspoken support for the U.S.-led efforts to decimate the Taliban.
At home, President Karimov has put the elimination of seditious elements within Uzbekistan at the top of his agenda and has shown a willingness to use despotic tactics toward that end. According to a report in the Washington Post, he once said of the Islamic militants in his country: "Such people should be shot in the head. If necessary, I'll shoot them myself." Since a terrorist bombing in the capital city of Tashkent killed 19 Uzbeks in February 1999, Karimov's government has reportedly been ruthless ? reckless, say its detractors ? in its efforts to find the perpetrators. Human rights group Amnesty International claims that the nation has seen a dramatic increase in the use of capital punishment since the bombing with at least 55 Uzbeks put to death, many of whom did not receive a fair trial. Torture of suspected terrorists in Uzbek jails is not uncommon. world.
During the '80s, Soviet troops staged numerous military assaults southward in an effort to wrest control of Afghanistan. The Soviets also used Uzbekistan to grow cotton for state production of clothing and textiles. But 64 years of Soviet environmental abuses left the region decimated by dust storms, pollution, chemical spills and drought.
Uzbekistan, like Afghanistan, is rugged country. Two-thirds of the nation is desert; most of the rest is mountainous. The country is also prone to major earthquakes.
Share your thoughts on the attacks in Afghanistan You Tell Us.
An MTV News Staff report.
Back to Fact Files Index