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US to retain use of key Kyrgystan airbase


Latest update : 2009-06-25

A new agreement will allow the United States to retain a key airbase in Kyrgyzstan for shipping military material to Afghanistan. Kyrgystan changed course this week after ordering the US base to close in February.

AFP - A new agreement that allows the United States to retain a key airbase in Kyrgyzstan will still let it ship military cargo as it did before, a senior US offical told AFP on Thursday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that despite reports to the contrary, the US airbase at Manas would continue to be used to send military cargo to Afghanistan.
"It still will allow us to transit the kinds of cargo with logistical support and personnel that we need," he told AFP on the sidelines of a NATO regional security summit being held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.
"It's a broad umbrella and it includes what we have been doing under the previous agreement."
Kyrgystan -- an impoverished Central Asian state -- changed course this week after ordering the US base to close in February, a decision that would have been a blow to US efforts in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban.
Under the agreement, which was ratified by the Kyrgyz parliament Thursday, Washington will more than triple the rent it pays for the base as part of a financial compensation package worth some 177 million dollars.
Kyrgyzstan had long complained that the rent it was receiving for the base was too low.
The key functions of the Manas airbase are the ferrying of tens of thousands of troops in and out of Afghanistan each year and the hosting of planes used for the mid-air refuelling of combat aircraft.
Under the new agreement, the US official said, those operations would continue, effectively putting to rest months of diplomatic wrangling as Washington sought to firm up its Afghan supply routes.
A huge majority of 75 lawmakers in the 90-member Kyrgyz parliament voted to let the United States maintain a "transit centre" at the airbase, which sits just outside the capital Bishkek.
None voted against the agreement, which was signed by US and Kyrgyz officials earlier this week.
Since the agreement was announced, Kyrgyz officials have publicly insisted that it amounts to a base closure and that from now on Manas will only be used for the transit of "non-military" goods.
"This is no longer a military airbase, the coalition soldiers must leave now. The dismantling of the base infrastructure can begin," said Kabai Karabekov, a lawmaker from the country's ruling Ak Zhol party.
"This is nothing more than a corridor for transit," he added, speaking after Thursday's ratification vote.
But despite Karabekov's comments about evicting soldiers, the agreement allows US personnel to remain and Kyrgyz officials have said they will be permitted to carry weapons.
And in fact, the agreement places no restrictions on what US forces may ship through it.
The US government and its personnel may bring "any form of personal property, equipment, provisions, materials, technology" into and out of Kyrgyzstan, according to the text ratified by parliament.
Moreover, US flights into and out of Manas may not by be searched by Kyrgyz authorities, the agreement says.
Kyrgyzstan announced that it would evict the US airbase in February, on the same day that Moscow promised more than two billion dollars in loans and aid to the ex-Soviet republic.
Moscow has long complained about the presence of US military bases in Central Asia, which it says lays within what President Dmitry Medvedev has called Russia's privileged sphere of influence.

Date created : 2009-06-25