With spring fighting season just around the corner in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan increasingly dangerous, the US is moving fast to find a more stable military supply route to the battlefield.
The top US commander in Central Asia and the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, met with Uzbekistan's president Wednesday, according to the Financial Times. The sole northern rail link into Afghanistan crosses Uzbekistan's border.
Uzbekistan evicted the US military in 2005 after Washington and other Western governments called for an inquiry into the reported massacre of hundreds of civilians during a protest in the city of Andijan. But stalled relations have served neither Uzbekistan nor the West, US Ambassador Richard Norland told the Monitor recently (see story here). He insists, though, that the US is not turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
"Engagement is getting us further both on Afghanistan and on human rights than efforts to sanction and isolate" Uzbekistan, says Mr. Norland.
Petraeus's visit to Uzbekistan comes as the US military faces eviction from nearby Kyrgyzstan. On Thursday the Kyrgyz Parliament overwhelmingly approved a proposal by their president to close a large US air base. In a story earlier this month, Pentagon officials told the Monitor that the base is important, but not critical to the war effort.