On May 26, unknown assailants attacked a border post in Uzbekistan's volatile Fergana Valley. Less than 24 hours later, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the nearby city of Andijan, killing a policeman. Both attacks were claimed by a shadowy group of Islamist militants with ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Although post-Soviet Central Asia has seen little terrorism in recent years, the attacks are a reminder that the conflicts underway in Afghanistan and Pakistan have a regional dimension -- and that the stepped-up U.S. involvement in the region carries the risk that instability will spread to other countries. While the fight against Islamist extremism may already seem dauntingly wide-ranging and complex, the Obama administration's thinking is not complicated enough. It's time to stop ignoring the Central Asian dimension of this conflict.
The U.S. presence in the region has already begun to expand. In the face of mounting instability in Pakistan, the U.S. military has increasingly turned to post-Soviet Central Asia as an alternative route for shipping supplies to Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan is currently Washington's major transit point, but, under pressure from Moscow, the Kyrgyz government has ordered U.S. troops to abandon their air base at Manas by August. The Kyrgyz might still experience a change of heart, but the United States has recently reached out to Uzbekistan as a possible alternative.