Kyrgyzstan’s president has signed a bill to close an air base that the U.S. military uses as a route for troops and supplies heading into Afghanistan, the president announced on his Web site Friday.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed the bill into law on Friday. Once the Kyrgyz government officially hands the bill over to U.S. representatives, the U.S. military will have 180 days in which to withdraw from the base, a government spokesman said this week. The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Bishkek has not received formal notification of the base closure, spokeswoman Michelle Yerkin told CNN on Friday afternoon. She said the document would likely be given to the U.S. ambassador. “We do remain in contact with the government of Kyrgyzstan,” Yerkin said. “The Manas air base continues to operate under existing agreements, as per the coalition’s efforts in Afghanistan.” Watch why Kyrgyzstan wants to close the base » U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the United States will continue to work with Kyrgyzstan on keeping the base open. Washington doesn’t think the president’s decision is “the last word,” Gates told reporters in Poland, where he is attending a NATO defense ministers meeting. One option may be to pay larger fees to Kyrgyzstan to keep the base open, he said, but planners are also looking at alternatives to the base. “Manas is important, but it is not irreplaceable,” Gates said. The Manas air base outside Bishkek is the Americans’ only base in Central Asia and is a major resupply hub for the war in Afghanistan. How far is Manas from Afghanistan View our map »
Its closing could deal a significant blow to the U.S. military effort there, especially following President Barack Obama’s announcement of additional troops to halt a resurgence of the country’s former Taliban rulers. The air base currently employs more than 1,000 servicemen, 95 percent of whom are Americans, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported. The base is used to transport military personnel and cargo to Afghanistan and to refuel aircraft