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Terror war and oil expand US sphere of influence

GIs build bases on Russia's energy-rich flank

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As the Roman Empire spread two millenniums ago, maps had to be redrawn to reflect new realities. In similar fashion, the expansion of the British Empire kept cartographers at their drawing boards, reshaping territories from Southern Africa to India to Hong Kong.

Now, as the United States wages its war on terrorism in Afghan-istan – and deploys troops for the first time in the energy-rich regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus – the borders of a new American empire appear to be forming.

Firmly in the Russian and later Soviet sphere of influence since Napoleon's day, these strategic regions, along with their Middle Eastern ramparts to the south, are now home to 60,000 American troops.

Some of these soldiers are building what appear to be long-term bases at remote Central Asian outposts, raising critical questions about America's future role.

One aim is the containment of Islamic extremism, a goal shared by Russia on its vulnerable southern flank. Looking to challenge OPEC leader Saudi Arabia in the oil markets, Russia is also worried about protecting its growing economic interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus, which are crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines – and potentially lucrative new routes.

But the new nearness of America is triggering heated debate in Moscow, where President Vladimir Putin, by permitting US deployments, is being widely blamed for "losing" Central Asia and succumbing to a new American imperialism.

Others say that Mr. Putin – recognizing that 70 percent of Russia's state budget comes from oil and natural gas exports – has simply traded in cold-war baggage for a new, clear-eyed pragmatism amid Russia's harsh economic realities.

Already 3,000 Americans are based in Uzbekistan, and are believed to run both overt and covert operations in Afghanistan from there. Commanders are setting up new facilities in Kyrgyzstan for a combat air wing and humanitarian missions, with 3,000 more troops.

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