Gates fends off Russian pressure to close America’s Kyrgyz air base, says it is needed to support war against Taliban
On arrival in Bishkek, the US defense secretary Robert Gates fought back pressure from Russia and Kyrgyz officials to close the US air facility at Manas which is just a few flying miles from Kabul.
debkafile notes the Russians are upgrading and expanding their Kant airbase, which houses a rapid deployment force special operations unit and warplanes outside the capital of the former Soviet republic. Whereas Moscow operates the facility gratis, Manas with its 1,200 US personnel is an important revenue source for Kyrgyzstan. Last year President Kurnmanbek Bakiyev threatened to evict US forces unless payment was upped tenfold to $200. Washington agreed to pay $150m in 2006 in the form of aid and rent. Closure of the US Karshi-Khanabad facility in Uzbekistan has increased US reliance on the Kyrgyz base for its war effort in Afghanistan.
“…the people of Kyrgyzstan must understand is that our use of Manas is in support of a larger war on terrorism in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on earth,” Gates said after meeting the Kyrgyz defense minister. “The arrangements that we have at Manas are similar to those that other nations have who have military forces here in Kyrgyzstan,” he said.