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Russia, China Stage War Games In Central Asia

Russia has promoted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a regional actor.
FAKHRABAD, Tajikistan (Reuters) -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan took part in war games in the first such exercise since Kyrgyzstan said in February it would shut the last U.S. air base in Central Asia.

The Manas base plays an important role in supplying U.S.-led troops fighting in Afghanistan and its closure poses a challenge to plans by President Barack Obama to send additional troops there to fight the growing Taliban insurgency.

Russia sees Central Asia as part of its traditional zone of influence and is concerned by the West's growing presence there.

About 1,000 soldiers took part in the exercises, 50 kilometers south of the Tajik capital Dushanbe under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Only Uzbekistan declined to take part, saying its special services were occupied by other, preplanned events.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that the SCO countries should have a stronger say in international efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. Analysts have said the closure of the Manas base could be interpreted as Moscow's offer to Washington to review the regional rules of the game.

The plot of the war games featured "Al-Qaeda" members who had crossed over the border from Afghanistan and captured a chemical factory, taking its workers hostage. The soldiers freed the hostages with the help of planes and parachutes.

During the exercises, Tajik soldiers demonstrated their ability to tear apart a live rabbit with their teeth and hands. Another soldier bit off the head of a small snake and ate it.