Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Kyrgyzstan moves to shut US base

AP , BISHKEK

Kyrgyzstan’s government submitted a draft bill to parliament yesterday that would close a US base that is key to the US military campaign in Afghanistan.

The move came a day after Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the base would be shuttered and shortly after the Central Asian nation secured billions of dollars in loans and aid from Russia, which resents the US presence in a country that Moscow regards as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

The possibility poses a serious challenge to the new US administration and US President Barack Obama’s plan to send up to 30,000 more US forces into Afghanistan this year.

Earlier, the US embassy in Kyrgyzstan said the US had received no formal notification of the closure.

Talks were scheduled to continue on keeping the air base in the country, despite the Kyrgyz president’s announcement, the embassy said in a statement.

The government said the decision to order the closure of the Manas base was made because the base has fulfilled its purpose of supporting military actions in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, “state institutions have been created, a Constitution adopted, a president was elected, and government was formed. All the necessary conditions are in place for the stable functioning of a government in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

The Kyrgyz government also cited growing popular discontent with the US military presence among its motivations for the closure. It also criticized US obstruction of the investigation into the fatal shooting in December 2006 of a Kyrgyz truck driver by a US serviceman during a security check at the entrance to the air base.

Officials have not specified when the closure might take place, but the agreement under which the base was established in 2001 specifies that the US must be given 180 days notice.

The base, which is located with the Manas civilian airport near Kyrgyzstan’s capital, is home to tanker planes that refuel warplanes flying over Afghanistan. It also supports airlifts and medical evacuation operations and houses troops heading into and out of Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan do not share a border.

The threat of closure comes at a time when increasing attacks on transport depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about the country’s ability to protect vital supply routes — and increased the necessity for alternative routes through Central Asia.

Some 75 percent of US supplies to Afghanistan travel through Pakistan. A bomb attack on a bridge on Tuesday severed the main supply route for US troops through Pakistan, and assailants torched 10 stranded trucks yesterday.

Russia, although nominally supportive of the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, is wary of the US presence in Kyrgyzstan.

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