U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (pictured) has visited Kyrgyzstan as part of ongoing attempts to both maintain stable relations with the newly formed government of the troubled country and to perhaps extend its current lease on a U.S. military base in the country. Kyrgyzstan’s recently elected President Almazbek Atambayev and the government have demanded for the dismantling of the U.S. military base, dubbed Manas, and conversion of said base into a civilian airport.
President Atambayev has repeatedly criticized the U.S.-NATO used base as “very dangerous”. Atambayev gave United States Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake an ultimatum: Disarm the military base at the Manas Transit Center and leave the country by 2014 or cooperate with Russian authorities in modifying the base into a civilian airport by 2014.
According to the Kyrgyz government, the 60 million to 150 million U.S. dollars given to Kyrgyzstan by the U.S. government isn’t “enough” to balance out the “dangers” of hosting a military base that could be the site of future terrorist attacks.
Atambayev and other officials have emphasized that they were not moving against the U.S. military base due to any pressure given by the Russian government which also has military facilities in the country.
Meanwhile, Atambayev has been working to get overdue payments for the Russian facilities on Kyrgyz soil.
Kyrgyzstan is in a unique and important strategic position for the world’s superpowers as it is the only Central Asian country playing host to both a Russian and an American military base.
The former Kyrgyz government wanted to shut the U.S. military base down in 2009 prior to the 2010 revolution because of a better Russian deal but was convinced by a new U.S. deal laden with more money to back off.
Kyrgyzstan underwent a violent and massive revolution in 2010, its second in modern history, leading to the toppling of former President Bakiyev who was long criticized for his violations of human rights.
When the revolution occurred in 2010, both Russian and American governments were anxious over the safety of their bases in the hostile and unstable region but were assuaged after the danger passed the bases by.
The interim government extended the lease on the U.S. military base by another year and then to 2014 soon after.
The U.S. base with its current population of approximately 1,500 workers has been in existence for over 10 years. It was originally set up to supply and reinforce the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Since then, it has become a major hub of military supplies and fuel for nearby American and NATO forces.
On the surface, there seem to be no problems with the current Kyrgyz government’s wishes as the U.S. is planning to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the exact year when the lease on the military base expires.
However, now that Pakistan is determined to lock its border with the southern border of Afghanistan, the importance of the U.S. military base which provides fuel and supplies in Kyrgyzstan has heightened due to the absence of few other alternative routes of supply.
Furthermore, losing the Manas base could make withdrawing from Afghanistan more complicated and difficult for the United States military.
(Cover Photo: SCOTT OLSON / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)