Russia Outbids U. S. for Manas Air Base

Just about ten days ago CENTCOM head Gen. David Petraeus announced that he’d succeeded in negotiating new supply routes for Afghanistan through neighboring countries, former member republics of the Soviet Union. Apparently, this was premature. Yesterday Russia announced that the government of Kyrgyzstan had agreed to turn the Manas Air Base over to Russia:

USA’s army base in Kyrgyzstan (an Asian republic of the Soviet Union) will be closed. The adequate agreement was achieved as a result of the talks between the presidents of the two countries, Dmitry Medvedev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev. It is worthy of note that the Kyrgyz administration previously announced that there would be no such statements made in Moscow.

“The government of Kyrgyzstan decided to cease the use of the Manas base by the armed forces of the coalition,” Itar-Tass quoted the Kyrgyz president as saying. The president added that the decision was based on economic issues and the generally negative attitude to the operation of the base in the country.

The Kyrgyz president reminded that his nation signed the agreement regarding the army base in 2001, when Afghanistan was in a state of war.

“Kyrgyzstan met the wishes of the United States and offered its territory for the anti-terrorist struggle, which was a serious contribution to the struggle. We talked about a year or two, but now it has been eight years. We have repeatedly discussed the questions of the economic compensation to Kyrgyzstan with American partners, but have not been able to come to understanding at this point,” the Kyrgyz president said.

“All of that echoed negatively in the society, and people started to question the operation of the base. The government of Kyrgyzstan decided to stop the use of the base, and you will see the government taking adequate measures soon,” Bakiyev said.

Itar-TASS has announced that the U. S. forces will will begin departing almost immediately:

BISHKEK, February 4 (Itar-Tass) — The United States will withdraw its troops from the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan within 180 days, Secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council Adahan Madumarov said on Wednesday.

“The withdrawal procedure has already been worked out; the Americans will leave Manas, as our president stated about it,” he said. This question should be settled “within 180 days,” he added.

According to him, Kyrgyzstan is planning to use the airbase for its own purposes. The use of the airbase by the rapid deployment forces of the CSTO states or Russia is not on the agenda, Madumarov said.

Earlier the Kyrgyz government submitted to the parliament the documents denouncing an agreement with the United States envisaging the deployment of an airbase of the international anti-terrorist coalition at the Bishkek airport Manas, a source in the Kyrgyz government staff told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.

The MPs are expected to debate this issue during a parliamentary

The Associated Press notes the incongruity:

During his visit last month, Petraeus said that Manas would be key to plans to boost the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. He also said the United States pumps $150 million into Kyrgyzstan’s economy annually, including $63 million in rent for Manas.

Russia agreed Tuesday to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2 billion in loans plus another $150 million in financial aid.

Central Asia is key to U.S. efforts to secure an alternative supply line to forces in Afghanistan. The main route, through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan’s northwest, has occasionally been closed in recent months due to rising attacks by bandits and Islamist militants.

How can we explain the discrepancy?

  1. Gen. Petraeus was mistaken or misled.
  2. After Gen. Petraeus’s announcement the Russians upped the ante and made the Kyrgyz an offer they couldn’t refuse.
  3. There’s more going on here than meets the eye.

I think probably #2 or, possibly, #1 and #2.

The Manas air base is the U. S.’s only base in central Asia. Losing it would make supplying our forces in Afghanistan, particularly if we increase the number of those forces, much more dependent on the Khyber Pass supply route through Pakistan. That, in turn, would strengthen the hand of the Islamabad government in dealing with us.

I don’t see this as particularly good news.

UPDATE (James Joyner): I wrote a piece on this earlier this morning for New Atlanticist titled “Kyrgyzstan Closing U.S. Base Key for Afghanistan.”  Dave beats me on the headline front.

The picture above is a screen capture from the Russian language news channel Vesti.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Add to this the news that the Taliban blew up a bridge on the Pak-Afghan highway outside Peshawar. We’re doubly screwed. The Russians pretty much control our alternative logistical options into Afghanistan, short of a miracle in which the Iranians will let us go through their territory.

  2. Anderson says:

    I guess I’m puzzled why we can’t use an air base in Pakistan.

    Sure, Pakistan’s leery of seeming too subservient to the U.S., and some people in Pakistan wouldn’t like it.

    But Pakistan’s been a huge disappointment overall, and I think they owe us here.

    More to the point, if we ask to use (or build) an air base & they say “no,” then Pakistan should look forward to zero U.S. aid, all of which should be redirected to India. This alternative plan should be expressly presented to Pakistan in advance.

  3. Davebo says:

    Since we are talking about an air base it seems there should be a lot of other options.

    Azerbaijan perhaps? We seem to have pretty good support in Baku.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Last I looked on a map, there’s no roads from Azerbaijan into Afghanistan.

  5. Anderson says:

    Last I looked on a map, there’s no roads from Azerbaijan into Afghanistan.

    Yah, there was an unfortunate lag time b/t writing my own comment & figuring out what the actual issue was: “Truck route into Afghanistan that doesn’t go over scary Taliban mountains.”

    Obviously, an alliance with Iran is called for ….

  6. Davebo says:

    Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!

    But seriously, Azerbaijan Airways is already doing a ton of resupply flights to both Baghdad and Kabul.

  7. DC Loser says:

    Davebo – AZ certainly can work as a staging point for flying some of the stuff on shorter haul aircraft into Bagram, but what happens when Bagram is maxed out in capacity with combat and other support aircraft? Manas is critical for tankers supporting OEF. If they have to back off into AZ or some of the other airfields in the Gulf States, that increases transit times and decreases loiter time over AF.

  8. tom p says:

    The real problem remains a ground route for resupply. We can’t possibly bring everything needed on planes alone. The Khyber road remains a logistical choke point that we can not defend.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Some time ago back at my place I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would take to supply Afghanistan solely via air. It would take an airport the size of O’Hare or a bunch of them the size of St. Louis.

    Those make great targets.

  10. DC Loser says:

    And we don’t have the airlift capability to sustain an airlift to Afghanistan. We’re already chartering Russian and Ukrainian An-124s to do some of the heavy lifting for our supplies and other equipment.

  11. Drew says:

    Meet Natasha, the dark haired info-babe……….

  12. Brett says:

    If I recall correctly, Kyrgystan has made these kind of threats before, and the US always did something or other that kept the base open. We’ll just have to see if the Kyrgyz Parliament decides to vote to close it on the government’s orders.

    It would certainly suck if they did. We’re already heavily reliant on the Khyber pass route for much of our supplies, and the loss of the airbase would mean that we’d have to send a lot of troops as well as supplies through the Khyber Pass. Not a good thing, as you mentioned.

    Some time ago back at my place I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would take to supply Afghanistan solely via air. It would take an airport the size of O’Hare or a bunch of them the size of St. Louis.

    Those make great targets.

    I’m curious where we’d get them, too. If we lose the Kyrgyz base, where is the next nearest US airbase?

  13. tom p says:

    Some time ago back at my place I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would take to supply Afghanistan solely via air. It would take an airport the size of O’Hare or a bunch of them the size of St. Louis.

    Dave, I am surprised that that would do the job. Of course, now that we are about to send another 30,000 in….