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Kyrgyzstan has set Aug. 18, 2009, as the final day of U.S. operations at Manas Air Base, though officials say bargaining is continuing and a deal could yet be struck to keep the crucial supply hub open.

The Kyrgyz parliament voted on Feb. 19 to close the base, and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed the bill into law the next day.

Those acts gave the U.S. a deadline of 180 days to vacate the base.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveling in Poland shortly after the vote, said he was hopeful the decision could be reversed.

"I continue to believe this is not a closed issue, and that there remains the potential to reopen this issue," Gates told reporters. "But we are developing alternative methods of getting resupply and people into Afghanistan.

"We are prepared to look at the fees and see if there is justification for a somewhat larger payment. But we’re not going to be ridiculous about it."

Bakiyev announced his desire to close the base last month after Russian officials pledged $2 billion in financial aid and loans to the former Soviet Republic.

The closure could hamper efforts to support President Barack Obama’s announced plan to send an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year.

In late February, Uzbekistan announced it would allow the U.S. to transport non-military supplies through its territory, a reversal of a 2005 decision that shut an earlier U.S. air base in that country.

Money, along with regional competition with Russia, appears to be a central issue in both cases. U.S. operations at the base contributed around $64 million to the Kyrgyz economy in fiscal 2008.

The money included $17.4 million in payments for use of the base, $22.5 million for airport operating and land lease fees, and $23.7 million in contracts such as construction projects and commodity purchases.

In the same time frame, Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers flew 3,294 refueling missions from the base to support air operations over Afghanistan, officials said. More than 170,000 coalition personnel passed through the base on their way in or out of Afghanistan, and Manas was the transit point for 5,000 tons of cargo, including spare parts and equipment, uniforms and various items to support personnel and mission needs.

Currently, around 1,000 U.S. troops, along with a few hundred from Spain and France, are assigned to the base.

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