The head of US Central Command said on Monday he had been assured Russia did not put pressure on Kyrgyz authorities to close a key US air base that supports military operations in Afghanistan.
Manas air base will be key to plans to boost US troop presence in Afghanistan by up to 30,000 soldiers in coming months, General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said here at the end of a weeklong tour of ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Russian media last week cited unidentified sources in the Kyrgyz presidential administration as saying Russia asked the impoverished Central Asia nation to close the base in exchange for a US$2 billion package of loans and investment.
“The highest-ranking official I met with gave his assurances that the issue of Manas was not raised during his discussions in Russia about possible economic cooperation and assistance,” Petraeus said.
The US set up two major bases in former Soviet Central Asia to support military operations in Afghanistan, to the south, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Uzbekistan expelled US troops from the base on its territory in 2005 in a dispute over human rights issues, leaving Manas as the only US military facility in the region.
Russia has long been suspicious of the US presence in what it considers its strategic backyard and has made little secret of wanting the Kyrgyz base shut down.
The US currently pumps a total of US$150 million into Kyrgyzstan’s economy annually, including US$63 million from renting Manas, Petraeus said.
Public anger at the US presence in Kyrgyzstan flared after a local truck driver was fatally shot by a serviceman in December 2006 during a security check at the entrance to the base.
Meanwhile, US-led coalition forces killed 22 militants, including two Taliban commanders, during a series of operations in Afghanistan, the US military said yesterday.
The raids, which involved air support, took place on Monday in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the US military said.
One operation targeted a Taliban network in Kapisa Province, to the northeast of Kabul. Troops killed 18 insurgents and a commander, who was involved in a series of attacks against Afghan and foreign forces, the US military said in a statement.
Coalition troops detained eight suspected militants during the operation, it said.
In two separate raids, one Taliban commander was killed in southern Kandahar Province and two more insurgents were killed in neighboring Zabul Province, the US military said.
The military did not say whether there were any casualties among the foreign troops. The Taliban could not be reached for comment.