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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
US can keep Kyrgyzstan air base
Rumsfeld in Bishkek with US ambassador Stephen Young
The US fears being squeezed out of Central Asia
The US has been told it can keep its airbase in Kyrgyzstan as long as it is needed for operations in Afghanistan.

But the Kyrgyz defence minister said that once the situation improved, US forces would no longer need to stay on.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is on a tour of Central Asia - a trip said to be in response to pressure on the US to withdraw from bases in the region.

About 1,000 US soldiers are stationed in Kyrgyzstan, and the US also has an airbase in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

These bases are a vital hub for ferrying supplies to US forces in Afghanistan, and providing refuelling services for US aircraft.

Urgent mission

The Pentagon negotiated the use of airfields in Central Asia four years ago, to support the war in Afghanistan.

Map of Central Asian states, Russia and China

The move extended American influence deep into the territory of the former Soviet Union.

But the Pentagon was caught off guard when earlier this month four Central Asian states, backed by Russia and China, issued a joint call for the US to clarify its intentions.

They said the situation in Afghanistan was now stabilising and the US should give a timetable for its withdrawal.

These calls are thought to have prompted Mr Rumsfeld to make his short-notice trip to the region - and his visit appears to have secured the US presence in the region, at least for the time being.

"The [US] base at Manas will stay as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires," said Kyrgyz Defence Minister Ismail Isakov, during a news conference on Tuesday.

Crucially for Washington, he said he agreed with the US view that the situation at present was quite far from being stable.

Donald Rumsfeld appeared to view his visit as a success.

"I wouldn't pack your bags," he told US forces at the Manas base.

But, whether America manages to maintain a longer-term military presence in Central Asia is still not certain, according to BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticas.

The recent pressure on the US to withdraw is said to have been prompted by recent instability in Central Asia.

In the past few months, protests swept Kyrgyzstan's president from power and Uzbekistan's authorities put down an uprising in the city of Andijan, killing - it is claimed - hundreds of civilians.

Washington's rivals for regional dominance, Russia and China, have made clear they do not want to see US forces in the region on a permanent basis.

They will welcome Kyrgyzstan's statement that the US stay on its territory is only a temporary one, our correspondent says.

After his meetings in Bishkek, Mr Rumsfeld flew to Tajikistan for talks with senior officials in the capital Dushanbe.

While the US has no troops based in Tajikistan, it has negotiated an arrangement allowing US military aircraft to refuel and fly over Tajik territory on missions relating to Afghanistan.

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