Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

US Airbase Fate Still in Balance

President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s announcement that the United States airbase in Kyrgyzstan must close has provoked a heated debate in this Central Asian state.
For this report, Almaz Turdubaev gathered a range of views, including an interview with Kyrgyzstan-based political analyst Marat Kazakbaev, who argued that the importance of the base to US operations in Afghanistan was increasing rather than decreasing as time went by.

The base, located at Manas airport near the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek, is the stopping-off point for the US-led Coalition’s main air route for moving military personnel and freight into Afghanistan and also provides aerial refuelling for jets. The Kyrgyz decision comes at a time when the land route from Pakistan is under pressure from Taleban attacks, particularly around the Khyber Pass.

Insofar as the base is contributing to building greater stability in Afghanistan, Kazakbaev concludes that the role it plays is “in the interests of all countries, including Russia”. When Bakiev made his announcement in Moscow on February 3, some commentators suggested the decision had been heavily influenced by a Russian desire to squeeze the Americans out of former Soviet Central Asia.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has reaffirmed his commitment to assisting the Coalition in Afghanistan, although he added the proviso that “of course, the forms and methods for carrying this out need to be coordinated with our partners, given that the operation has been going on for a fairly long time”.

At the same time, other analysts believe that Bakiev’s statement needs to be seen within the broader context of shifting US-Russian relations. Medvedev is due to meet President Barack Obama soon, and they may able to reach some kind of agreement on how to cooperate on Afghanistan. And there is still time for the Americans to negotiate a deal with Kyrgyzstan to prolong their tenure at the Manas base.

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