Kyrgyzstan announces closure of US air base – again

The US will lose its air base in Kyrgyzstan after the current lease contract expires in 2014, the country’s prime minister said. The previous government also intended to close the Manas base, but eventually agreed to a bigger rent from the Pentagon.

“The contract term expires in 2014. So I won’t hide it, naturally – after 2014 there will be a civilian transport hub there. There must not be anyone’s military base,” Almazbek Atambayev said in an interview on Russian news TV channel Rossiya-24.

At the moment Manas airport is used as a transit base for the supply of military cargo to the international coalition in Afghanistan. The base has been rented by the United States since 2001, when the NATO-led force invaded Afghanistan and the need for it arose.

In 2009, the Kyrgyz government wanted to shut down the base citing unfavorable financial compensation, environmental damage and a number of incidents when US troops stationed in Manas used legal immunity to avoid prosecution by for alleged crimes against Kyrgyz citizens.

However then-President Bakiev later reneged, and Kyrgyzstan sealed a new deal with the US, under a new contract with better financial terms. The base was also renamed “Transit Center at Manas International Airport”, to distract from its military nature.

After Bakiev’s government was toppled by a revolution in 2010, the new authorities backed the lease contract.

Some observers linked the current decision to a Russian loan to Kyrgyzstan offered shortly before the news broke. Moscow has been unnerved by the US military presence in the region and some Russian media have reported that the Manas base doubles as a major radar spying facility targeting Russia.

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