Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deal could be near to extend use of Manas Air Base

by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

U.S. officials could be nearing a deal with the Kyrgyzstan government to extend U.S. access to Manas Air Base, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters April 28.

Mr. Morrell reported progress in negotiations he called "reason for hope" about reversing Kyrgyzstan's previous decision regarding the base.

Kyrgyzstan's foreign ministry notified the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek in February that it had six months to leave Manas, a major logistical and refueling center that supports troops in Afghanistan. About 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo move through the base every month.

The decision was to end the arrangement the United States and Kyrgyzstan established three years ago that gave the U.S. annual renewal rights through July 2011. The United States pays $17.4 million a year to use the base.

But officials made it clear from the start that they hoped to get Kyrgyzstan representatives to reconsider their decision.

"We ... have been engaged in conversations with them about extending our use of that facility," Mr. Morrell said. "And I think we see reason for hope there that that can be worked out... We hope we're getting closer."

In the meantime, he said the military has been looking for alternative air bases in the event that that doesn't happen

"We have found a number of suitable ones" to support its northern distribution network, he said. "Should it become necessary to find other bases to fly out of and trans-load our personnel into Afghanistan, I think we've got suitable alternatives within the region."