Yerevan Tight Lipped On US Use of Airspace

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Officials in Yerevan on Monday keep under tight wraps details of the announced use of Armenia’s airspace by the US military as part of their preparations for retaliatory strikes against alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

The ministries of defense and foreign affairs reiterated only that Washington has been allowed to carry out military flights over Armenian territory and has already made use of the permission.

"Additional information about the type of the [US] aircraft and other forms of support [by Armenia] can not be provided at the moment," Dziunik Aghajanian–the foreign ministry spokeswoman–told RFE/RL.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Yerevan also declined to specify details of the overflights.

A sources in the Armenian Civil Aviation Authority said that at least one American warplane has crossed Armenia en route to an undisclosed destination since Thursday’s official announcement of the US overflights. The aircraft had taken off "somewhere in Europe," the source said.

Aghajanian indicated that the Armenian government–which has close military ties with Russia–did not ask Moscow’s go-ahead for opening its airspace to the US air force. "Armenia is a sovereign state and takes decisions based on its national interests," she said.

Military analysts say that the flights over Armenia are most probably originated from the US military base at Incirlik–southwestern Turkey. The US already has 50 warplanes there–used to patrol a no-fly zone over Iraq. Incirlik is a short flight from Iraq and Syria and some 2,400 kilometers from Afghanistan–where Osama bin Laden–the prime suspect for the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington–is hiding.

The Russian-language Azeri daily "Ekho," quoting unnamed "Turkish sources," reported over the weekend that at least 14 US military aircraft flew from Incirlik towards Central Asia via Armenia and Azerbaijan on Friday. The authorities in Baku–which have pledged full cooperation with the US-led anti-terrorist coalition–did not comment on the information–according to the paper.

The former Soviet republics of Central Asia could serve as an important base for the anticipated American military action against Afghanistan.

The strongest and most influential of them–Uzbekistan–possesses Soviet-era facilities that can accommodate heavy aircraft transporting troops and military hardware. Reports from Tashkent said several US transport planes have reportedly landed at military facilities there. "The Washington Post" quoted on Monday several sources as saying that the Uzbek military has received orders to prepare their bases to receive American warplanes.

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