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Asia-pacific

Closure of key US base is 'final,' govt says

Video by Louis MASSIE , Meriem AMELLAL

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-02-06

The decision to close a US air base that is vital to supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan is "final," a Kyrgyz government spokesman said. White House sources say the United States is working to "remedy" the decision.

The Kyrgyzstan government's decision to order the closure of a US base that serves as a vital route for supplies to Afghanistan is "final", a government spokesman said Friday.
   
"The government of Kyrgyzstan has taken its final decision about the closure of the American airbase," government spokesman Aibek Sultangaziev told AFP.
   
"The issue is now with parliament which must cancel the agreement on the base with the United States. The Kyrgyz foreign ministry is exchanging views with the US embassy on the time-frame for the base's closure."
 

The White House said on Thursday it would work with the government of Kyrgyzstan to "remedy" its decision to close the air base, which has been "vital" in the war in Afghanistan.
   
The decision by the Central Asian state could prove a problem for the administration of President Barack Obama as the base was likely set to play a key role in his plans to boost US troop numbers in the Afghan war.
   
"We've seen the reports and I believe we've been in consultation with leaders there," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
   
"Obviously, Kyrgyzstan has provided an important air base in Manas that has been vital to our efforts and coalition efforts in Afghanistan and we look forward to working with them to remedy that situation," Gibbs said, referring to the closure plans.
   
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev first announced the closure of the base in Moscow, fueling speculation the decision came under pressure from Russia, which has been irritated by the US presence in ex-Soviet territory.
   
The announcement was made with Dmitry Medvedev by his side, minutes after Russia granted Kyrgyzstan a loan of two billion dollars. But Russia has denied having influenced the Kyrgyz government.
   
A State Department official doubted how serious the Russians were with the offer.
   
"The Russians have put forward some kind of an offer. I think you all have probably heard about the offer, much of it we don’t believe they would ever have come through with," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
   
"It was not lost on us when Bakiyev said that (base closure) on Russian television. I am not sure what the Russians are up to. I don’t think it is realistic anyway. They are talking about something like two billion dollars."
   
Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the decision on the base was "regrettable" but said US operations in the region would continue to be effective, no matter what happened.
   
"With respect to the base, the defense department is conducting an examination into how else we would proceed," Clinton told reporters after talks with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
   
"It will not affect whatever decisions we make. It is regrettable. This is under consideration by the government of Kyrgyzstan and we hope to have further discussions with them.
   
"But we will proceed in a very effective manner no matter what the outcome of the Kyrgyzstan government's deliberations might be."
   
The closure of the Kyrgyzstan air base would strain US supply lines at a time when Obama is preparing to nearly double the 36,000-strong force in the country and amid increasing attacks on supply routes through Pakistan.
   
About 15,000 people and 500 tonnes of cargo move in and out of the Manas air base every month supporting the NATO force in Afghanistan as well as the Afghan army, the US Defense Department said on Wednesday.
   
The base remains the only US outpost in Central Asia after the US military was evicted from Uzbekistan in 2005 following Washington's condemnation of Tashkent over human rights violations.
   
US officers in charge of transportation were already exploring other routes to supply troops deployed in Afghanistan after repeated attacks on a key road in Pakistan used to ferry supplies through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.

 

Tajikistan has offered to allow the transit of non-military supplies by the US and other NATO countries to Afghanistan, the US ambassador to Dushanbe said on Friday.
   
The Manas base, operated by about 1,000 troops including small French and Spanish contingents, was set up to support coalition forces fighting to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

 

Date created : 2009-02-06

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