Kyrgyzstan to close US air base

February 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Kyrgyzstan is ending U.S. use of a key airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan's president was quoted as saying Tuesday. A Kyrgyz decision to end the U.S. use of Manas, just outside the Central Asian nation's capital of Bishkek, could have potentially far-reaching consequences for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said during a trip to Central Asia last month that Manas air base would be key to plans to boost U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by up to 30,000 soldiers in the coming months.

Interfax and RIA-Novosti quoted Kurmanbek Bakiyev as making the statement just minutes after Russia announced it was providing the poor ex-Soviet country with billions of dollars in aid.

The Kyrgyz government "has made the decision on ending the term for the American base on the territory of Kyrgystan and in the near future, this decision will be announced," Bakiyev was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying.

Kyrgyz government officials could not be immediately reached for comment. U.S. Embassy officials in Bishkek could not be immediately reached either.

The United States set up the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan and a base in neighboring Uzbekistan after the September 2001 terror attacks, to back operations in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan expelled U.S. troops from the base on its territory in 2005 in a dispute over human rights issues, leaving Manas as the only U.S. military facility in the immediate region.

Russia has long been suspicious of the U.S. presence in what it considers its strategic backyard.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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