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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[28.04.2OO2] Rumsfeld Name Challenges Central Asia

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) -- The war in Afghanistan has made Donald H. Rumsfeld a household name. For some of those closest to the front lines, though, getting it right is a challenge.
The first two times the defense secretary appeared at well-orchestrated ``town hall'' sessions to respond to questions from U.S. troops in the field -- on Friday in Kyrgyzstan and on Saturday in Afghanistan -- the American officers who introduced him on stage called him ``Donald Rumsfield.''
Later Saturday, at a joint news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai repeatedly called him ``Mr. Rumsfield.'' A pokerfaced Rumsfeld let it pass.
During a brief stop at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, one of the 2,700 U.S. soldiers had an unusual request.
Brian Butler, an Army chief warrant officer from Cleveland, who serves as an intelligence analyst, got Rumsfeld to pose for a picture with Butler and ``Patrick'' -- a brown-haired, road-worn Cabbage Patch doll Butler has made a habit of lugging with him wherever he is deployed.
The doll belongs to Butler's son, Alexander, who was 7 when he first urged his dad to take the doll along when he went off to war. Butler, a reservist who is a registered nurse in civilian life, has been called to active duty for extensive periods in recent years.
Alexander is now 16. ``Patrick'' has been to Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld, who turns 70 in July, wore his staff ragged during a long Saturday in Afghanistan.
The day began shortly after dawn with a flight aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo plane from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
With his staff in tow, Rumsfeld then dashed to Kabul on a ground-hugging MH-47 helicopter flight, then flew back to Bagram, escorted by Apache attack helicopters. There he boarded an MC-130 ``Combat Talon'' special operations plane with defensive weaponry for a stomach-churning night flight to Herat in western Afghanistan. Inscribed on the outside of the plane was ``Spirit of 9-11.''
The final leg of the day's journey got him to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, well after midnight.
At his first news conference the next day he jokingly pleaded for easy questions.
``I had a late night,'' he said.
Formal welcoming ceremonies are standard fare for American defense secretaries on trips abroad. What Rumsfeld encountered upon his arrival at Herat, however, was anything but standard.
He stepped off his plane onto a tarmac that was pitch black except for the light of a full moon.
Ismail Khan, the local warlord, greeted Rumsfeld and escorted him to a lineup of aides dressed in various combinations of military garb.
A small military band struck up an unrecognizable tune that was drowned out by the earsplitting roar of the MC-130's propeller-driven engines, which kept running throughout the welcoming ceremony.
Rumsfeld was led down a red carpet to review Khan's troops, and the two stepped onto a reviewing stand draped in red cloth. Two microphones were in place for the standard welcoming speeches, but not a word was spoken.
Milling about, meanwhile, were Rumsfeld's armed bodyguards and American special operations soldiers in full battle dress.
Rumsfeld's itinerary included some of the more exotic Central Asian capitals a U.S. defense secretary has ever visited.
First came the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, which has the odd distinction of being named after a wooden plunger. A ``bishkek'' is a churn used to make Kyrgyzstan's national drink: fermented mare's milk.
Then there was Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, situated near the border with Iran on the edge of the Garagum desert. It was founded in 1881 at the site of a hamlet by the same name. The name Ashgabat is believed to come from a combination of the Arabic word for love (``ishq'') and the Persian suffix ``abad,'' meaning built. Thus it is ``the city that love built.''
Astana, where Rumsfeld visited Sunday, was founded in 1830 a Russian Cossack fortress and called Akmola, meaning ``White Plenty'' in honor of its production of milk and breads.
Kazakhstan's ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, decided he wanted to move the nation's capital from Almaty to Akmola. Critics suggested the plan would be his political undoing and joked that ``white plenty'' would become a ``white tomb.'' Nazarbayev then gave it a new name, Astana, meaning simply, ``capital.''
Associated Press, April 28, 2002

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