NATO plans to close its liaison office in Central Asia, further diminishing the already tiny Western military presence in the region.
The office in Tashkent will close at the end of March 2017, and from then the alliance's work on Central Asia will be conducted out of NATO headquarters in Brussels, said Rosaria Puglisi, NATO's liaison officer for Central Asia, in an interview with the website Ferghana.ru.
"This decision is the result of internal budget considerations and doesn't have any political character," Puglisi said. "There has been no pressure from Uzbekistan or from other states working with our office. On the contrary, we've always had a warm reception in the region."
NATO opened the Tashkent office in 2013, and used it to coordinate the alliance's activities in the region. That meant, primarily, the logistics of moving war materiel in and out of Afghanistan, the then-special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, said at the time.
The office was tiny -- only four staff members, including two local administrative assistants -- but its departure still seems to represent a further Western military retreat in Central Asia that has been going on for several years.
The United States closed its air base in Uzbekistan in 2005, and its base in Kyrgyzstan in 2014. France shut down its small air contingent in Tajikistan in 2014, and Germany closed its air base in Uzbekistan in 2015. All of these, and the NATO office in Tashkent, were mainly oriented toward the mission in Afghanistan, which has now shrunk and transitioned into a training and support mission.