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February 5th, 2009
04:37 PM ET

Making the Afghanistan fight even harder

Editor's Note: The State Department confirmed that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns arrived in Moscow on Wednesday and will discuss the use of the Manas military base in Central Asia with Russian officials.

AA U.S. troop guards the main access checkpoint to the Manas Air Base on December 18, 2008.

AA U.S. troop guards the main access checkpoint to the Manas Air Base on December 18, 2008.

Alexandra Poolos
AC360° Editorial Producer

You might never have heard of it, but there's a tiny, impoverished Muslim country that's been playing a crucial role in America's "war on terror." And now it says it doesn't want to do that any more.

Kyrgyzstan, lodged between China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, says it will close a key U.S. airbase that supports operations in Afghanistan. The country’s president says the U.S. base will have to find a home elsewhere.

After the so-called 2005 Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyzstan became known as an islet of democracy in a region that is home to some of the world’s most entrenched dictatorships. The largely peaceful protests swept to power a new president who promised to liberalize the press, fight corruption and bring more democracy to Kyrgyzstan.

Leasing the Manas Air Base to the U.S. made the country a little-known but special American ally. The base was set to become even more important as the U.S. began preparing for a major troop gear-up in Afghanistan. President Obama has said the war there is one of his top foreign policy priorities. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said last month that the base would be essential for the troop increase.

Now, with the imminent closure, there isn’t anywhere else in the region for the U.S. military to anchor its support operations in Afghanistan. Yes, there's the U.S. base in Bagram. But the Kyrgyz base has given the U.S. broader access to the region, and served as a vital station for refueling aircraft.

The U.S. air base in repressive Uzbekistan got booted in 2005 when the U.S. complained about human rights abuses, and the Kyrgyz base became the sole regional support for forward Afghan missions. And it’s no small operation. Run on the outskirts of the capital Bishkek, the base has close to 2,000 troops and contractors and runs around-the-clock air support missions.

Why did Kyrgyzstan decide to kick out the U.S.? Money, lots of money from Russia. The announcement came just after Russia agreed to give Kyrgyzstan over $2 billion in aid, a number that dwarfs the $150 million the U.S. had been giving.

During a visit to Moscow earlier this week, the Kyrgyz president said the issue comes down to the price the U.S. is willing to pay to keep the base open. But yesterday he sent a pretty definitive message that closure is imminent, forwarding a bill to the Kyrgyz Parliament to close the base.

The U.S. has been quick to say no final decision has been made. "It is a hugely important air base for us," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters. "We are hopeful that we can continue our good relationship with the Kyrgyz government, and can continue to use Manas in support of our operations in Afghanistan.”

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. can salvage the relationship with Kyrgyzstan - or the base, anyway. But Russia is certainly counting the closure announcement as a victory in its struggle for regional influence over governments, the military, and oil pipelines. As one U.S. embassy official told me during a visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2007, "Russia is a clearly a player."


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Pentagon • War on Terror
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Casey | Sebastopol, CA

    Maybe we should take our soldiers AND our dollars and go home from EVERYWHERE. Not only would that force the rest of the world to police their own regions of the world, but it might remind them how much they depend on American dollars to exist.

    I'm not saying we should isolate ourselves as a country, but just exempt ourselves from making policy and influencing places on the basis of ideology... As a child of the '60s, I've always wondered why a communist country like Cuba could exist just off our shores (without, in retrospect, any REAL damage to this country) but we just HAD to go fight that other dirty little war in Vietnam.

    To me, Iraq is our Vietnam, redux. Sure, it's about other reasons, but ultimately, it comes down to we should have spent all those hours and dollars finding an alternative to needing the oil that was the REAL reason for Iraq.

    February 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  2. Richard Whapham

    I am on total social security, its the only income I have but I do not see anything in the stimulus package giving the seniors on social security and help. It looks like the seniors are being left out. The seniors got the shaft again from the government.

    February 12, 2009 at 3:40 pm |
  3. jim Fallbrook CA

    This wouldn't have been an issue if the War was fought to win. Not to appease the Afghans. This war is conducted more like a police action. Our socialist president Barack Hussein Obama plans to treat them as criminals. Hey Obama, they didn't rob a bank. Next thing Obama will di is have the military reading the Miranda rights to captured terrorists and insurgents. It is a well known fact that Osama Bin Laden/Al Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding in border towns in Pakistan. They should eliminate restrictions and rules of engagement on the military. Let them go into Pakistan and kill or capture all Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Then this air base in Kyrgyzstan, wouldn't be an issue.

    February 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  4. ARLENE

    When speaking about the President of the US and the First Lady I have never heard people refer to them by their 1st name as they do now to President Obama and Michelle Obama. Why is that? Is it that they feel close to them because they are so Personable or What.
    I feel it is Disrespectful.
    I hear Young People calling the President Barack and the First Lady Michelle. Come on people RESPECT

    February 12, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  5. Julie

    It was wrong for nadya to give birth to all those babies,true...
    however,they are here and need our loving prayers and support reguardless of their mothers ignorance.

    ps will you be my valentine Anderson

    February 12, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  6. StevG

    Playing devils advocate I remember the time Russia was going to put missiles in Cuba, during Kennedy"s adminastraction, you saw how
    America reacted to that threat. It almost turned into world war three.
    So you can see, why Russia would want to control and influence the area around its borders. We would do the same thing. Sure it has to do with money, we have been doing the same thing for years. You can't blame Kyrgyzstan . Sold to the highest bidder.

    February 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  7. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    In war, like business, relationships more often dissolve. It would appear that the US is going to have to get more business agressive if they are going to retain this partnership.

    February 12, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  8. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Russia has a plan...oil in the region...

    February 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  9. Rory Eason

    Hi Anderson,

    I am watching Soledad's coverage of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. I am a numbers buff and I noticed that Lincoln was born in 1809, the NAACP was formed in 1909, and Obama is inaugurated in 2009. Furthermore, Lincoln died in 1865 and how many years later was the NAACP formed? The answer: 44 (the number of President Obama). I think I'll play the lottery today!

    February 12, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  10. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    In war, like business, its business---and friendships often dissolve--looks like the US is going to have to get more business agressive.

    February 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  11. ronvan

    EVERYONE WAKE UP!!!! Just another example of why we should bring our troops home!!! ALL OF THEM!!! Our troops are worn out, their equipment in need of repairs and over committed!! If these countries want democracy then let them fight for it like WE did!! We continue to WASTE our soldiers lives by fighting people that do not really want us to begin with, and then are STUPID enough to tell our brave & heroic soldiers that they cannot harm innocent people!!! Those INNOCENT people are the ones that shake your hand during the day and plant IED's at night!!! YES, there are truly innocent people out there but they are so imtimidated they cannot do anything!

    February 6, 2009 at 10:22 am |
  12. margaret

    Wow, this is different. Wonder what is really going on. If you read L. Fletcher Prouty The Secret Team, you would realize that the CIA is totaly in control of that area and they, and not the Russians are causing the obstruction. The President should be aware of what the CIA is doing, except that as the super secret organization has plants in every office of the government and military, it can control the info he gets. The President is not in the "need to know" loop. A Democrat President any way. Clinton didn't count, since the CIA recruited him way back in the sixties. I don't see any hope of your printing this because the CIA bought out the media, using tax payer dollars, back in the fifties.

    February 6, 2009 at 9:28 am |
  13. Manish

    It's either one of these two:

    1. Kyrgystan wants more money, since it sees this base is an integral part of the war on terrorism and feels that the U.S can cough some more money to keep using it.

    2. Kyrgystan has yielded to Russia's requests to stop helping the United States. Russia just can't stand to see the United States in control of the World. I personally advise Russia to keep its nose away from other people's business and focus on its tumbling economy instead.

    February 6, 2009 at 4:05 am |
  14. jim Fallbrook CA

    It is obvious that Kyrgyzstan did this for the money. Since we are going to be in Afghanistan for some time, especially with our new socialist president. We should buil a air base in Afghanistan. This probalby would not have been an issue had this war was fought to win. It seems to be more like a police action. Obama will probably have the military give the enemy combatants their Miranda Rights. I guess Obama thinks they are criminals like somebody that robs a bank!! On the other hand, the American people should not lose sight of why we are having all the problems in the Middle East. The person mainly responsible for this is Democrat president Jimmy Carter. This is sa quote from Investors Business Daily in 2003 when Carter called Bush the worst president in history. "As Khomeini was rewarded with one propaganda coup after another for poking America in the eye, Pahlavi continued to be punished for having been our friend. The humanitarian Carter's response to our old ally's request for asylum was, and I quote, "F*ck the shah."Muslims learned another lesson. The establishment of an Islamic terrorist regime in Iran that demonstrated to the world its ability to attack the US with impunity — Carter's main legacy — set in motion disastrous chains of events that include 9/11 and are still playing out". When the Amercan people complain about the billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan, remember it is due to the worst president in history Jimmy Carter.

    February 5, 2009 at 10:45 pm |
  15. Beth

    Thanks for finally talking about Afghanistan. I know everyone is concerned about getting more troops into Afghanistan during the surge, but my concern is getting them out. My brother has been there for a year and should be headed home soon. I sincerely hope this doesn't slow down what has already been a painfully long process. Losing Manas definitely complicates things.

    Thanks for talking about this a little. The economic crisis is important to some, but I'd much prefer to hear about the war. It seems all but forgotten at this point. Now that the election has died down, I hope 360 can get back to talking about this story.

    February 5, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
  16. Mike in NYC

    @Anne in NJ:

    Aside from bringing a hostile military alliance to Russia's doorstep, and attempting to encircle them politically and militarily, no, the US hasn’t done much at all.

    Objectively speaking, Russia has the right to try and influence areas near to its borders. The US certainly never shied away from doing so.

    @GF, Los Angeles:

    So if a nation has the temerity to actually charge the US for using its territory, they're automatically not democratic? What, the world owes the US a living?

    February 5, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  17. Annie Kate

    Hard to carry on a war so far from home with no local bases and hard to have local bases if Russia is going to outbid us. It really stinks being poor but I'm sure Russia is tickled pink at our troubles. With Putin calling the shots from his position we may find ourselves looking at another chill in our diplomatic relations with Russia and a lack of maneuverability in the countries over there especially since hardly anyone seems to like us anymore, thanks to Bush.

    February 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  18. Mike, Syracuse NY

    The russians don't want a US presence anywhere near them or former members of the USSR. They oppose Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO for that reason. They also don't want a missile defense system (key word-defense) in Eastern Rurope. It will be interesting if Obama backs down or stands tall. I'm guessing he's got 4 reverse gears and one forward gear in his new limo.

    February 5, 2009 at 5:08 pm |
  19. GF, Los Angeles

    I think it's sad that we had to pay in the first place. If Kyrgyzstan really wanted more democracy, they would've never charged the U.S. to have a base there in the first place. It's all nothing but bribe money and Russia just has more than we do.

    February 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Keith

    Who knew this country was so involved in the war on terror. So frightening to think that favor with the U.S. is worth so little these days.

    February 5, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  21. kristen farlow

    Thanks for this report! Didn’t know this was happening…the power of location. Wonder if the base is closing because the lease is up or is Kyrgyzstan breaking the lease? I guess it doesn’t matter, though. I don't think we can buy ourselves out of this one. It's not fun being broke.

    February 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  22. Anne in NJ

    Now the U.S. is thinking of talking to Uzbekistan. What a radical turn-around. To Mike in NYC: not sure how the U.S. is "peeing off." Russia has been trying to influence Central Asia and the former Soviet sphere, and nothing has angered Putin and his cronies more than the revolutions. I think they demonstrate how serious they are with that hefty 2 billion dollar loan. President Obama really has his hands full. Let's hope he's got a bit more perspective on how hostile Russia can be.

    February 5, 2009 at 3:38 pm |
  23. Mike in NYC

    Russians are still good at chess, I see.

    They're also offering the US alternative routes for Afghan supplies. Seems they're afraid of the Muzzies, too.

    @Cindy, Ga:

    A lot of Russian territory is actually in Central Asia. It's the US that's been doing the "peeing off," as you so eloquently wrote.

    February 5, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
  24. Beth

    Russia is at it again, in a part of the world that the U.S. should have been paying more attention to years ago. I have read elsewhere that this is pretty much a done deal and that U.S. is looking for other places to base military operations. The real backstory here is the lack of progress in the entire region since the color revolutions. I would love to see more coverage of issues in the former Soviet sphere and Russia.

    February 5, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  25. Kirk James

    This is a great story. Thank you CNN for tackling some serious news and informing the public about this topic.

    February 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  26. Cindy

    Before I even read the whole article I knew what Kyrgyzstan wanted...more money!! Seeing that the base plays an integral role in our operations in Afghanistan I am sure that we will make some sort of monetary deal with them.

    Russia just tries everything that they can to just pee us off don't they!?

    Cindy..Ga.

    February 5, 2009 at 2:04 pm |

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