Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday on end the United States’ lease on the air base at Manas which has been a critical transit hub for American troops and material moving in and out of Afghanistan. The Americans are expected to vacate the facility by July of next year when they will be in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Unable to use the Manas facility, the last American troops leaving in 2014 might have to exit through Pakistan, with which American relations are strained, or Russian air bases. The United States will also be harder pressed to send troops into Afghanistan post 2014 when the civilian government is likely to struggle to prevent the Taliban, who ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, from resurging.
Earlier this year, Russia agreed to NATO’s use of an air base at Ulyanovsk to facilitate the allied withdrawal.
Former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev had tried to close the base a year before he was deposed in 2010. American and Russian intervention changed Bakiyev’s mind who accepted an increase from $17 to $60 million in annual payments for the Americans’ continued use of the facility.
Incumbent president Almazbek Atambayev also campaigned to end the lease and improve relations with Russia instead. Last year, he extended Russia’s lease of the Kant Air Base, some twenty kilometers east of the capital Bishkek, for another fifteen years. Kyrgyzstan is expected to enter a customs union with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia later this year.
Some 1,500 American military personnel and contractors work at Manas which also serves as a launching platform for air tankers used to refuel warplanes operating over Afghanistan.
Just under 100,000 NATO forces are now stationed in Afghanistan, 68,000 of whom are American. Half of them are scheduled to be withdrawn by early 2014.