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Kyrgyzstan’s president has signed a bill closing a key U.S. support base for the war in Afghanistan, apparently making the decision to close Manas Air Base final.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed the bill Friday, government officials said. The signing of the bill, which the Kyrgyz parliament passed Thursday in a near-unanimous vote, was the final step needed before an eviction notice for the base would be sent to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek.

Once that notice is served, the United States will have 180 days to vacate the base.

Traveling in Poland, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates 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, according to The Associated Press. "But we are developing alternative methods of getting resupply and people into Afghanistan."

Bakiyev announced his desire to close the base this 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.

On Friday, base officials issued their most comprehensive comments to date on the situation.

"We have always recognized that Manas Air Base operates only with the express permission of the sovereign government of the Kyrgyz Republic," Col. Christopher Bence, the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, was quoted as saying in a lengthy press release. "We will comply and move our operations within the prescribed timeline. It has been an honor and privilege for all coalition personnel to serve in Kyrgyzstan over the past seven years. We will dearly miss the friends we have made and cherish the opportunities in which we have been able to help our neighbors."

According to the release, 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.

The base opened in December 2001 and was originally called Ganci Air Base. Since then, troops from the United States, Australia, Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand have been stationed there.

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

Late Thursday, Gates had said negotiations on the base could be reopened.

"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," Gates told reporters.


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