Global Policy Forum

US pays to keep Kyrgyz base open for Afghan supply


By Olga Dzyubenko

June 23, 2009


The United States has agreed to pay $180 million to Kyrgyzstan to keep open the last remaining US air base in Central Asia which is used to supply troops fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The United States has been bargaining with Kyrgyzstan to keep the Manas air base open since February when the former Soviet republic announced its closure after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia. The decision to keep the base open marks a victory for Washington as it seeks to more than double its presence in Afghanistan by year's end to fight the Taliban insurgency.

"The reason for entering these agreements was the general situation in Afghanistan and around it," Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev told parliament's defense committee. "Obviously, we cannot ignore potential threats," he said.

Under the deal, the United States will pay Kyrgyzstan about $180 million for keeping the Manas base, according to a copy of the document which has been seen by Reuters. The annual rent for the base, which is nestled in steppes outside the capital Bishkek, will go up to $60 million a year from $17.4 million currently. Washington will also provide $67 million to upgrade Manas airport, $20 million for a joint economic development fund and $32 million to fight drug trafficking and terrorism, according to the document. It was not clear whether the base would be used for military or non-military cargo to Afghanistan, though Kyrgyzstan will not check the US planes at the base, according to the document.

"We applaud the decision by the Kyrgyz Republic to continue to play a key role as the international community broadens and deepens its commitment to bringing stability and security to Afghanistan and the region," said Michelle Yerkin, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Bishkek. "These arrangements provide for a transit center at Manas international airport that provides logistical support to coalition forces in Afghanistan," she said.



The base, which serves as a key refueling point for aircraft used in Afghanistan, is important to Washington because supply routes through Pakistan have been attacked by militants. The surprise decision to close the base -- announced in by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Moscow alongside Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev -- provoked speculation that Russia was trying to use the issue as a bargaining chip in US relations.

Russia has denied being behind the decision, though Moscow has made no secret of seeking to check US interests in the former Soviet Union, which it regards as its sphere of influence. The Kremlin says it is ready for cooperation with Washington on fighting the Taliban and Afghanistan is likely to be on the agenda when US President Barack Obama visits Moscow in July. Russia's Foreign Ministry released a terse statement saying that the new Manas agreement "was the sovereign right" of Kyrgyzstan.

Obama has embarked on a massive build-up of forces in Afghanistan in a bid to quell the growing Taliban insurgency and troop levels are expected to rise to 68,000 by the end of 2009. "The reported decision gives the United States another option for re-supply of US forces in Afghanistan," said Colonel Christopher Langton, Senior Fellow at the International Institute Strategic Studies. "It provides the United States with a greater ability to supply US forces," he said.

Kyrgyz deputies said the deal was signed on Monday and that parliament was likely to vote on its ratification this week.


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