US Defense Chief in Kyrgyzstan for Talks on Base

Posted March 13th, 2012 at 10:55 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Kyrgyzstan in an effort to persuade the country's leaders to allow the U.S. military to continue to use an airbase there after its lease expires in 2014.

The Manas facility is used by the U.S. military for moving troops and supplies in and out of Afghanistan. It also houses a fleet of aerial refueling aircraft.

Panetta met Tuesday with the secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Defense Council, Busurmankul Tabaldiev, and Kyrgyz Defense Minister Taalaybek Omuraliev. At the start of the meeting, Tabaldiev told reporters there should be no military mission at the Manas base after 2014. He said the base is a civilian, commercial enterprise.

However, a U.S. official travelling with Panetta said there may be some “wiggle room” in future talks on the matter.

Losing the base would severely complicate the upcoming drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan, which is set to take place through the end of 2014.

The base has been the source of much contention between the two countries. In 2009, Kyrgyzstan threatened to close the base, but reversed the decision after the U.S. increased its yearly payments from $17.5 million to $60 million.