U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the United States is open to further negotiations with the government of Kyrgyzstan concerning the Manas Air Base, but is also exploring alternatives.
Since 2001, the United States has paid $17.4 million a year to lease the Manas Air Base from the Kyrgyz government. The base hosts approximately 1,000 military and civilian personnel from the United States, France and Spain. Many local Kyrgyz citizens operate the 15-hectare former Soviet facility, located 35 kilometers from Bishkek. The base hosts fuel tanker aircraft and moves cargo and personnel into and out of landlocked Afghanistan every month.
While U.S. and Kyrgyz leaders agreed to extend the lease in 2006, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, at a February 9 press conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, announced his intention to terminate the lease. On February 20, President Bakiyev ratified an eviction measure approved by Kyrgyzstan's parliament.
"I continue to believe that this is not a closed issue and that there remains the potential at least to reopen this issue with the Kyrgyz [government] and perhaps reach a new agreement," said Secretary of Defense Gates at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Poland.
Continuing the Manas base agreement is very much in the interest of Kyrgyzstan. The base supports international efforts to aid the people of Afghanistan in their fight against violent extremists. Kyrgyzstan has itself been a target of extremist militants operating along its shared borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the late 1990s. Kyrgyzstan was an early supporter of international efforts to oust Afghanistan's extremist Taliban regime following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Since the 2005 Tulip Revolution, the Kyrgyz government has sought increased compensation for the base. Secretary Gates said the U.S is open to a discussion of that issue. If an agreement cannot be reached, he said, the U.S. is considering alternative methods of meeting its obligations to Afghanistan. "Manas is important but it is not irreplaceable," he said.
Hampering international efforts to assist Afghanistan is not in the interests of Kyrgyzstan or the region. The United States urges the government of Kyrgyzstan to again consider extending the Manas Air base agreement.