The top U.S. military officer says the Department of Defense is studying the possibility of setting up permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers told reporters in Kabul that the United States enjoys good relations in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He said he will soon make a recommendation to President Bush about building permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
"At this point we are in discussions with the Afghan government in terms of our long-term relationship, remembering that for the moment, the coalition has work to do here, the United States has work to do here, and that is where our focus is right now," he said.
The U.S. military has kept about 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan since defeating that country's former Taleban government in 2001. It also has forces deployed in neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Earlier this year, Senator John McCain called for Washington to make its military presence in Afghanistan a permanent one.
Reactions from Afghanistan's neighbors to such a move would likely be mixed.
Retired Pakistani Lieutenant General Talat Masood says officials in Islamabad probably would be happy to see a permanent U.S. presence, which they believe would provide support in the event of hostilities with rival India.
"Pakistan, to be honest with you, I think they will not mind that," he said, "because they may think that is it is a good way to countervail India, provided they [Pakistan] themselves have good relations with the U.S."
But he adds that right-wing elements in Pakistan, along with some of the country's religious political parties, might see U.S. bases as a sign that Washington seeks to dominate the region.
He adds that Iran, Afghanistan's neighbor to the west, would also be upset.
Iran sees the United States as one of its enemies, and President Bush has criticized it as being part of an "axis of evil."
General Masood says a U.S. decision to keep bases in Afghanistan could be partly out of a desire to contain Iran and monitor its forces. He says the United States also wants to keep as many bases near the Middle East as possible to ensure stability in the region, which has vital petroleum reserves.
General Myers' comments came as the U.S. military announced one of its military policemen was killed and four were wounded in a landmine blast in western Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier was also killed in a separate landmine explosion.