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Western Militaries Exit Central Asia As Germany Shuts Uzbek Base

German soldiers who have completed their term of deployment in Afghanistan wait for their luggage to go through a security check before their flight back to Germany at the air base in Termez in April 2010.

Germany says it will close its air base in Uzbekistan, shutting the last Western military installation in former Soviet Central Asia.

The base in the town of Termez, which has provided support for German and other NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan since 2001, will be closed by the end of 2015, the German military said on October 14.

About half of the base's 41 German personnel left Termez earlier this month, the military said, and German forces in northern Afghanistan have been relaying on the U.S. transport flights since August.

"Termez right now is just a backup. We are not effectively using it right now, that's the reason why we are closing it," German Foreign Military Operations Command spokesman Dominik Wullers told RFE/RL.

"Some [personnel] will be transferred to Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan where we have our base, while others will relocate to Germany," Wullers added.

The military, however, didn't rule out the possibility of German forces returning to the base in the southern Uzbek border town.

It said a group of German specialists would arrive in Termez on October 18 and take steps that would enable the base to be used at short notice if such a decision were made.

Established at the end of 2001, the Termez air base was one of a handful of military installations opened by NATO member states in Central Asia to aid military operations in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion that followed the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

But most foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan by the end of last year, decreasing the need for the bases, and Central Asian states appear to have faced pressure from Russia to lessen the Western military presence on their soil.

The German air base had been the only Western military base in Uzbekistan since the closure of the U.S. Karshi-Khanabad air base in 2005. The U.S. lease for its Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan expired last year, and a French air base at the airport in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, also closed in 2014.

Germany currently has 850 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO's 12,500-strong residual force, which is made up mostly of U.S. troops.

The United States had planned to pull almost all of its 9,800 troops out by the end of 2016, but is now expected to leave 5,500 in the country at least through 2017.

Germany and Uzbekistan had extended the lease of the Termez base in 2014 but the price and the expiration date were not made public.

Regional media reported at the time that Uzbekistan had tried to raise the rent, which had been estimated at between $11.5 million and $17 million.

Human rights groups have accused Germany of turning a blind eye to Uzbekistan's poor human rights record.

Autocratic Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been in power since the Soviet era and tolerates little dissent.