Afghan President Hamid Karzai has entered the debate over the future of a major U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, asking his Kyrgyz counterpart to keep the base open beyond August.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted earlier this year to close the U.S. base at Manas, a decision ratified by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The base is scheduled to be closed by August, but Karzai has now asked Bakiyev to annul the decision.
Karzai has sent an official diplomatic letter to Bakiyev saying he was concerned that the security and stability of Afghanistan would be affected if the base indeed closed as planned. Karzai’s letter, according to wire reports, went on to say that Afghanistan’s troubles could affect Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region.
Last month, Kyrgyz officials said a U.S. offer of $30 million to upgrade Kyrgyzstan’s air traffic control system will not change the decision to shut down the base.
While Kyrgyz officials have said the decision to close Manas Air Base — approved after a February parliamentary vote — is final, U.S. officials have said negotiations are ongoing.
According to The Associated Press, the two presidents could meet and discuss the base during a June 15-16 summit in Russia of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That group, led by Russia and China, also includes Central Asian countries and has Afghanistan as an "observer" nation.
Manas has long been a crucial hub for troops and supplies heading in and out of Afghanistan. With a major influx of troops and equipment, the military has been seeking alternative supply routes.
Although the base closure decision came shortly after Russia pledged more than $2 billion in aid and loans to Kyrgyzstan, Russia has denied trying to push the former Soviet republic into making that move. Russia has also announced plans to increase the number of aircraft at its own air base in Kyrgyzstan.