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Kyrgyzstan starts moves to close US air base

US air base in Kyrgyzstan says no closure signs

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Kyrgyzstan's government has submitted a decree to parliament to shut down a U.S. airbase in the Central Asian state, an official spokesman said on Wednesday.

U.S. military personnel will be given 180 days to close operations and leave once the final decision is made.

Parliamentary approval is seen as a formality in a country whose the chamber, dominated by the pro-presidential Ak Zhol party, tends to rubber stamp government initiatives.

"A draft decree on terminating the agreement on the U.S. airbase has been sent to parliament," spokesman Aibek Sultangaziyev said. "It is up to parliament now to decide when to hold discussions on this."

The U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan earlier said that it had not received any official notification that the Kyrgyz authorities were ordering the closure of the U.S. military air base.

"The embassy does not know anything about this at the moment. We are preparing an official statement regarding this issue," the spokesman for a U.S. embassy in Bishkek, Turat Makenbaev, told AFP.

Key U.S. center for operations in Afghanistan

Kyrgyzstan's president said on Tuesday that the United States must close its military base in the Central Asian country, once seen as a key support center for U.S. operations in nearby Afghanistan.

"Kyrgyzstan's government made a decision to finish the term of the presence of the base ... we are starting concrete actions to close the base," Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow.

Washington set up the base in 2001 after the start of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. But its role has been heightened as the United States seeks to reinforce supply routes to Afghanistan that bypass Pakistan, where supply convoys face security risks.

Bakiyev made his statement after receiving a promise of more than $2 billion in credit and aid from Russia to assist his impoverished country.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that despite Kyrgyzstan's decision, both countries will continue cooperating with the United States on Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan's government made a decision to finish the term of the presence of the base ... we are starting concrete actions to close the base

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev

US reacts

Earlier, the U.S. said it hoped to continue using the airbase and called it "hugely important" for the resupply of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said active negotiations were underway with the Kyrgyz government on renewing an agreement on access to the base.

"It is a hugely important air base for us," Morrell said. "It provides us with a launching off point to provide supplies to our forces in Afghanistan."

The impasse over Manas comes as the United States gears up for a major buildup of forces in Afghanistan, which will require a bigger flow of arms, materiel and supplies into the landlocked country.

The U.S. Manas airbase is currently home to more than 1,000 military personnel.

It is a hugely important air base for us...It provides us with a launching off point to provide supplies to our forces in Afghanistan

Whitehouse spokesman