The US despatched 1,000 crack troops to Uzbekistan yesterday after securing the use of an air base as preparations for a military strike on Afghanistan moved into high gear. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - in Uzbekistan on the final leg of a four-nation mission to boost support across the Middle East and Central Asia - secured agreement from President Islam Karimov for the troops to use the key air base. The troops, from the US Army's 10th Mountain Division, will provide security for other US forces in the region. Coinciding with Mr Rumsfeld's trip, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Pakistan last night for four hours of talks with President Pervez Musharraf in what was being billed as a major Western show of support for the co-operation of his military regime. Although Mr Karimov gave permission for the US to use the Uzbek base, he said it was only for search and rescue missions. He claimed crack special forces commandos were not in his country and insisted it could not be used to launch attacks. 'We are not ready for this,' he said in comments analysts believed were geared for domestic consumption. He played down talk of secret deals but said a mutual security document would be published soon. US military officials said such support was crucial, especially given concerns that prevent operations being launched from Pakistan. 'We have a sufficiently wide ability to operate,' one official said. 'It is basically what we wanted.' However, human rights activists fear the US has ignored abuses against Muslims in Uzbekistan to secure military co-operation. The troops, supporting smaller groups of British Special Air Service and US Special Forces commandos already thought to be inside Afghanistan, mark the front line in the biggest build-up since the Gulf War. Their presence is backed by four aircraft-carrier battle groups across the Middle East and South Asia and an estimated 600 fighter jets and bombers within range of Afghanistan. After his meeting with General Musharraf, Mr Blair said Pakistan had made the right choice in supporting the fight against terrorism, describing the US terror attacks of September 11 as 'an outrage against the civilised values of all peoples of all faiths in the world'. He said he had told General Musharraf that any action against Afghanistan would be proportionate, targeted and 'not directed against the Afghan people, who are not our enemy'. He also said he had agreed that any successor to the Taleban 'must be broad-based with every key ethnic group included'. General Musharraf called the US terror attacks a 'human tragedy' and agreed there was evidence that Osama bin Laden, America's prime suspect for the attacks, was behind them. General Musharraf expressed gratitude to Mr Blair 'for his understanding of the problems being confronted by Pakistan and my Government', referring to opposition to the US campaign from the country's Islamic parties. Mr Blair will head to India later today for talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. As military manoeuvres continued in the region, it was reported that Tajikistan was carrying out exercises involving 2,500 troops in the north of the country. Tanks and MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters were involved in what Tajik defence officials called preparations for the 'fight against terrorism'. Of the American build-up, a US official said: 'We are getting very close to the point of final readiness. The forces are in place and a range of targets have been identified. All that is needed is the final decision to attack.' Initial moves are likely to involve limited strikes to destroy the Taleban's brittle air and tank defences to pave the way for attempts to capture bin Laden and his leading officials. Mr Rumsfeld, however, seemed to indicate that the first purpose of the growing military might was to apply pressure rather than to launch a major attack, just as the freezing of terrorist groups' money was applying a financial squeeze. Alluding to the Cold War, he said: 'It did not involve major battles. It involved continuous pressure. It ended not with a bang but through internal collapse.'