Kyrgyz leader says U.S. can still save Manas
March 6, 2009
Kyrgyzstan’s president said in a BBC interview that "the doors are not closed" on the possibility of the U.S. military negotiating to keep open Manas Air Base.
The vital supply base for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan is set to close in August, after the Kyrgyz government voted last month to shut it down. But on Wednesday, the British Broadcasting Corp. aired an interview with Kurmanbek Bakiyev in which he said, "We are ready for any new proposals from the U.S. government aimed at stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan."
Bakiyev also seemed to openly play Russia and the U.S. off of one another, saying, "Our partners — be it the United States or Russia — should listen to what we have to say.
"We decided to close the base because our proposals have been ignored for years and I don’t consider such relations as being equal."
The decision to close Manas came the same week Russia pledged more than $2 billion in loans and aid to the former Soviet republic. The move was seen as the latest salvo in renewed Central Asian competition between the former Cold War foes.
Bakiyev told the BBC that negotiations with the U.S. would have to take a "different format."
Shortly after the Kyrgyz parliament signed the bill closing Manas, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "I continue to believe this is not a closed issue, and that there remains the potential to reopen this issue. But we are developing alternative methods of getting resupply and people into Afghanistan."
Those alternate supply routes include passing through Uzbekistan, which hosted a U.S. logistics base until 2005, when international condemnation over Uzbekistan’s human rights record strained tensions.
Supply lines into Afghanistan have been pinched, with repeated militant attacks on routes leading from Pakistan. President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan this summer, and his administration is in the midst of a review of the war, which began in October 2001.
Manas is around a two-hour flight from Kabul, and some 15,000 passengers pass through Manas each month on their way in and out of Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has said. Officials have said rent paid by the U.S. for the base amounts to around $17 million annually.
Some 1,000 U.S. servicemembers live at the base, along with 100 Spanish and French troops.
Under the eviction notice issued by the Kyrgyz government in February, the U.S. military would have until mid-August to vacate Manas.