Washington will not consider shutting down its Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan until troops are pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.
The US’s top diplomat made the announcement during her five-hour visit to the Central Asian republic.
Speaking to Kyrgyz students and civic society representatives in a televised interview, Clinton observed that the US and its NATO partners agreed in November – at the alliance’s summit in Lisbon – to begin turning control of Afghanistan over to local authorities next year. The goal, she said, is to have the Afghans in charge of their own security in four years’ time.
“And then we will look to see if there is any continuing mission that would be of benefit to Kyrgyzstan that would be continued there,” she added, answering a question on the fate of the base near the capital Bishkek.
Later, talking to troops at Manas, Clinton noted “You are not going to be here indefinitely,” quotes the State Department official website.
However, according to Kyrgyz President Otunbayeva, the issue of the base’s future was not discussed during her Thursday’s meeting with Hillary Clinton, since that would be “the prerogative of the future government”. She highlighted, though, the importance of the Manas base for Kyrgyzstan and voiced concern over the possibility of the increase of the threat of terrorism that might follow the troop withdrawal next year.
The air base is a key transit center for US and allied troops deployed to Afghanistan. It also houses a fleet of American air tankers which refuel warplanes. The Manas base has been in use since the beginning of the Afghan War in 2001.
The hub has raised tensions between US and Kyrgyz governments over jet fuel supply contracts.
The Pentagon had awarded a deal worth over $300 million to supply the air base to a corporation that is currently under investigation by US Congress. While the business will not disclose its ownership, there is speculation that the family of ousted Kyrgyz President Bakiyev might be involved. The companies – Red Star Enterprises and Mina Corp, both based in Gibraltar – deny any links to the Bakiyev family.
Speaking at a joint media conference with Otunbayeva, Clinton assured that the US is committed to transparency. “The fuel contract was a result of an open bidding process, but we recognize that the government of Kyrgyzstan is conducting its own investigation into the fuel company,” Clinton noted.
Seeking to ease tensions over the strategically important base, the Secretary of State promised that the US will help Bishkek set up an entity which would bid for a portion of the lucrative fuel supply contracts.
“We are working on a partnership to help establish a Kyrgyz entity that can take over part of the base contract,” she said. Later, in a TV interview, Clinton added that a newly created body will be able to “provide a significant part of the fuel”, and “the funding will go into the Government of Kyrgyzstan”.
The American diplomat also praised Kyrgyz attempts to build a democratic state. After the October election, Kyrgyz leaders agreed to form a coalition government which will try to finally bring stability to the Central Asian state. The situation in the country has been fragile since the mass revolt in April this year in which Bakiyev was overthrown and hundreds were killed in riots.
“There are many who say parliamentary democracy, true parliamentary democracy, cannot work in Central Asia, or in many other places in the world. We reject that, and we think Kyrgyzstan is proving that it can,” Clinton stated.
Following the Kyrgyz leg of her Central Asian tour, the US Secretary of State flew to neighboring Uzbekistan.