US to lose its base in Kyrgyzstan

Manas military air base (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Voronin)
Kyrgyzstan is not going to prolong its agreement with Washington, which entitles the US to use Manas Transit Center to supply its forces in Afghanistan, after it expires in 2014, the republic's Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has said.

“…In full compliance with our commitments, we will inform the American side on the termination of the contract six months prior to its expiry,” the Central Asian state's premier said in an interview with Rosbalt agency. Kyrgyzstan plans to turn the Center, formerly known as Manas Air Base, into a civil transportation hub. Both Russian and Western investors would be welcome to participate in the creation of the facility, Atambayev added.

The military installation has been used as a key transit center for US and allied troops deployed to Afghanistan since the beginning of the Afghan War in 2001.

However, in 2009 the Manas military base was transformed into a transit hub used for the delivery of non-military cargo for the international coalition operating out of the Islamic republic. That followed a string of conflicts over the sum of rent and other incidents involving the base’s personnel, after which Kyrgyzstan denounced an agreement on maintaining a military air base on their territory. A significant rent increase and US investments into several Kyrgyz projects helped the sides to iron out their differences and ultimately reach a compromise.

After the 2010 ouster of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev following bloody anti-government protests, the new government was to make a decision on the fate of the base near the Kyrgyz capital.

Prime Minister Atambayev noted the former leadership's “preconceived attitude to undertaken commitments” has spoiled Kyrgyzstan’s image abroad. In order to improve it, the republic has no choice but to fulfill previously reached agreements, he said.

Back in December 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington would not consider shutting down its Manas transit center until troops were pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014.

“And then we will look to see if there is any continuing mission that would be of benefit to Kyrgyzstan that would be continued there,” she said while speaking to Kyrgyz students and civil society representatives in a televised interview during her trip to the Central Asian state. Later, while talking to the military personnel in Manas, she noted “You are not going to be here indefinitely”.

Apparently, Kyrgyzstan no longer finds it beneficial to host the so-called transit center. The US was already resolved to the fact that they’d have to leave the crucial hub in Central Asia sooner or later, though probably not this soon.

On June 23, a new ramp was opened at Manas International Airport. It was constructed under an agreement between Washington and Bishkek.

“The ramp we are opening today is a thirty million dollar improvement to the airport’s infrastructure. Not only will it further our ability to support the mission in Afghanistan, but it will serve as a lasting benefit to Kyrgyzstan and its economy,” said American Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Pamela L. Spratlen while speaking at the opening ceremony, as quoted by the embassy's official website. In addition, she said, the US would contribute $30 million for a new Kyrgyz Republic air traffic control system. With all of this happening at a time when the US economy is in deep trouble over its own internal debt crisis, one has to wonder if it is simply the United States’ boundless generosity which is at play.

When the republic's parliament voted to terminate their lease to the US for the air base in 2009, the then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the US was looking for alternative locations.

“I would say that Manas is important, but not irreplaceable. We are looking at alternatives. We have not foreclosed on the possibility that Manas would remain open. We're looking at whether, given the importance that Manas plays and the likely growing importance of Manas, whether there is something we ought to do differently in terms of compensation,” he said, speaking at the Pentagon, as cited by the US Department of Defense website. He added that the US was not prepared to stay at the Kyrgyz base “at any price”, but added that “clearly Manas is important to us”.