Page last updated at 09:27 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Kyrgyz MPs vote to shut US base

US soldier at Manas base near Bishkek, 4 February 2009
Manas is the only US air base in Central Asia and is a vital transit point

Kyrgyzstan's parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of closing a strategic US air base that supports US and Nato operations in Afghanistan.

The decision was passed by 78 votes to one. Once President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signs the bill, the US has 180 days to leave the base.

Mr Bakiyev announced the closure plan earlier this month in Moscow, where Russia pledged $2bn (1.4bn) in aid.

Bishkek denies any link between the move to shut the base and Moscow's aid.

The president said earlier this month that the US refusal to pay an adequate rent was behind the decision.

'Wrap up operations'

Thousands of US soldiers pass through the Manas base every month on their way in and out of Afghanistan.

It is also home to the large tanker aircraft that are used for in-air refuelling of fighter planes on combat missions, and it serves as a key supply hub.

For the US, the decision comes at a critical moment, as the new administration of President Barack Obama plans a sharp increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan.

Two hours' flight time from Kabul
15,000 US soldiers pass through every month on their way in and out of Afghanistan
Houses 1,000 US soldiers alongside 100 Spanish and French troops
Home of large tanker aircraft used for in-air refuelling of fighter planes
3,294 refuelling missions flown in 2008 providing 11,419 aircraft with fuel over the skies of Afghanistan

For Russia, on the other hand, its closure would be a diplomatic victory as it seeks to reassert its influence in former Soviet republics, analysts say.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev could not say when Mr Bakiyev was expected to sign the bill into law - but he said the closure was a certainty.

"Once all the procedures are over, an official eviction note will be sent, and after that the United States will be given 180 days to wrap up operations at the air base," he told journalists.

The Kyrgyz decision has sparked frustration in Washington.

"I think that the Russians are trying to have it both ways with respect to Afghanistan in terms of Manas," US defence secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday, on his way to Krakow to meet his Polish counterpart.

"On one hand you're making positive noises about working with us in Afghanistan and on the other hand you're working against us in terms of that airfield which is clearly important to us."

Tashkent talks

With supply lines to Afghanistan via Pakistan increasingly threatened by militant attacks, Washington has intensified talks with other countries in the region in the wake of Mr Bakiyev's announcement.

On Tuesday, the US commander for the Middle East and Central Asia, General David Petraeus, held talks in Uzbekistan, which has rail links with Afghanistan.

The US has already reached deals with Russia and Kazakhstan to send non-military cargo to Afghanistan using their rail networks, but the supplies would have to go through Uzbekistan. The US used to have an air base in Uzbekistan that served troops operating in Afghanistan.

But Uzbek authorities closed it in 2005 after criticism from the US and EU over a crackdown on a mass protest in the town of Andijan.

Map showing existing/possible supply routes
1. Manas airbase: the only US base in Central Asia, a vital transit point for Nato and US operations. Kyrgyz government wants it closed.
2. Karshi-Khanabad airbase: US forces were ordered out in 2005. Uzbekistan may agree to allow it to be used for non-military transports.
3. Bridge over Panj river: part-funded by the US, it was completed in 2007. May serve as another supply route into Afghanistan.
4. Khyber Pass: most supplies to US and Nato troops come through Pakistan. Increasing number of attacks in the area mean the US army is looking for back-up routes.

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