By Damian Grammaticas
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in Central Asia for discussions that could determine how long US forces use air bases in the region.
The US is in danger of being squeezed out of Central Asia
He is holding talks with leaders of the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
Four Central Asian states, Russia and China have urged the US to give a timeframe for withdrawal of forces used to support operations in Afghanistan.
Mr Rumsfeld has flown to the region on an urgent mission, travelling half-way round the world at short notice.
The reason is the US is suddenly under pressure to pull out from air bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The Pentagon negotiated use of the air fields to support the war in Afghanistan four years ago.
The move extended American influence deep into the territory of the former Soviet Union.
So the Pentagon was caught off guard when earlier this month Central Asian states, backed by Russia and China, issued a joint call.
They said the situation in Afghanistan was now stabilising and the US should give a timetable for its withdrawal from the bases.
This change of heart appears to have been prompted by recent instability in Central Asia.
In the past few months, protests swept Kyrgyzstan's president from power and Uzbekistan's authorities put down an uprising in the city of Andijan, killing - it is claimed - hundreds of civilians.
Central Asia's governments, afraid of instability, are closing ranks. And they have found backing from Russia and China.
The result is that the US is in danger of finding itself squeezed out of Central Asia, its rivals seizing the moment to dislodge it from the region.