ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. has stopped filling up its Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling tankers at Manas air base, one of the most important logistical hubs for the war in Afghanistan, because of a request from Kyrgyzstan’s new government to renegotiate its contract to supply fuel to the base.
Fuel prices have been an issue for the new government since it overthrew the previous regime in violent clashes in April. Last week, the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan formally began negotiations, a Pentagon official said.
“I think it’s sufficient to say they’re not proposing reducing the cost of the fuel,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
As a result, U.S. tankers are being routed elsewhere, he said.
All other functions of the base, including troop transit, and operations in Afghanistan are unaffected by the move.
“As you know, we have a certain amount of flexibility built into our logistics system,” Whitman said.
The fuel negotiations are just the latest complication since the base was opened in 2001. The April coup forced the grounding of U.S. flights at Manas. Last year, Kyrgyzstan ordered the base closed by August after receiving a major aid package from Russia. The U.S. was forced to begin rerouting supply lines in June, but ultimately the Kyrgyz government relented and the base remained open.
Then, just three weeks ago, official spokesmen for the new government began to go silent on their views of the American base.
Senior leaders of the protest movement had accused the U.S. of giving ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family generous jet fuel contracts, the New York Times reported at the time.
Kyrgyz companies, the Times said, are profiting hugely by buying cheaper Russian fuel and selling it to the U.S. at much higher prices while skimming millions of dollars for themselves. Bakiyev denied the allegations.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the U.S. will continue to use one of the embattled companies, Mina Corp., a subcontractor to Red Star Enterprises, of London, until opening a new bid competition this summer for supplying fuel to Manas.
Still, the Pentagon remains optimistic.
“The interim government has made some very positive, encouraging statements about the future use of Manas,” Whitman said.