Saturday, February 21, 2009

U.S. Given Six Months to Vacate Base in Kyrgyzstan, Talks Continue

By John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Kyrgyzstan has given the United States six months to leave Manas Air Base, but discussions continue for a longer U.S. presence there, a Pentagon official said today.

The Kyrgyz foreign ministry today officially notified the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek that a 180-day withdrawal process is under way, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

But U.S. officials don't consider the military's future at Manas, a key logistics hub for military forces in Afghanistan, a "closed matter," and will continue discussions with Kyrgyzstan about remaining at the base, he said.

"We will continue our discussions with the government for possible continued future use of the base. But we will certainly abide by the agreement that we have with them," he said.

The Kyrgyz order became effective today when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reportedly signed legislation that the parliament in Bishkek backed yesterday.

The United States pays $17.4 million a year to use Manas Air Base, a major logistical and refueling center that supports troops in Afghanistan. Officials in Washington and Bishkek signed a deal three years ago allowing the United States to renew the arrangement annually through July 2011.

About 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo reportedly move through Manas monthly.

But Whitman, echoing remarks yesterday by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said the base is "not irreplaceable," and that the United States will seek alternate supply routes.

"This is an important facility, it has been an important facility, but it's not irreplaceable and, if necessary, we will find other options," he said.