US, Kyrgyzstan Reach Deal on Airbase Use, Official Says
The accord to use Manas airport as "center of transit shipments" would fall short of U.S. hopes of maintaining the facility as a full-fledged military airbase. But it would provide a much needed logistical support base as the U.S.-led coalition ramps up operations against the increasing bold Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan.
A tentative deal was agreed upon Monday and a Kyrgyz parliamentary committee was due to consider the agreement Tuesday, said the official, who asked not to be named since the announcement had not yet been made.
However, there was unlikely to be any strong opposition to the deal, which goes before the full parliament after it gets backing from the committee.
U.S. officials at the Embassy in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, said they were unable to provide immediate comment on the deal.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev stunned Washington in February by announcing that U.S. forces would be evicted from Manas, saying Washington wasn't paying enough and citing other concerns.
The United States pays $17.4 million annual rent for Manas, but according to U.S. officials, it contributes $150 million to the local economy every year through service contracts and aid packages. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said that Washington would be willing to pay more, within reason.
With the Aug. 18 eviction date looming, however, Kyrgyz officials have suggested in recent weeks they might reconsider the decision.
Earlier this month, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai appealed to Kyrgyzstan to let coalition forces continue using Manas.
U.S. forces have had access to Manas outside Bishkek since 2001. The base _ a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan _ became even more important to the Afghan war effort after neighboring Uzbekistan evicted U.S. troops from a base there.
Bakiyev's announcement in February came hours after Moscow, which has long been wary of the U.S. presence in Central Asia, pledged more than $2 billion in aid, loans and investment for Kyrgyzstan. That led U.S. officials to suggest that Moscow pressured Bakiyev to kick out the Americans.
Russia also has an air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Analysts and opposition politicians have said in recent weeks that Russia might be linking its backing for the U.S. in Kyrgyzstan to other nettlesome issues in US-Russian relations, such as NATO expansion into former Soviet republics or U.S. plans for placing a missile defense shield in Central Europe.
"This decision tells us that the Kyrgyz government is not in charge of its own foreign policy, but is just a plaything in the hands of the Kremlin," Bakyt Beshimov, leader of the opposition Social Democrat party faction, told The Associated Press Tuesday.