Just days after American military officials stated their readiness to logistically remove their presence from the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, it appears they can unpack their bags, or at least the ones without weapons.
The Kyrgyz parliament has approved a more limited American presence in the country and has received a hefty raise on their rental fees. Although there are varying reports on ‘new restrictions’ such as only non-military gooods can pass through the pass, the new financial agreements seem more transparent. Annual rent will go from $17.5 million dollars to a whopping $60 million and the US will provide approximately $36 million for airport upgrades, $30 million for new navigational equipment, and more than $40 million for economic development and anti-drug trafficking measures.
Regarding other logistics, the Manas air base will now be referred to as a ‘transit center’ and the Kyrgyz government will now be in charge of security outside the base. Though the New York Times stated that it heard nothing about restrictions on weaponry, other reports, such as Voice of America and the Associated Press, stated differently. If there is indeed serious restrictions on military goods I’m not so sure I agree with the NY Times assessment that this is a ‘victory’ for the Obama administration. (Why do they have to say for ‘Obama’ or ‘Bush’, why can’t they just say the US?). The Manas air base, which was threatened to be closed down a few months back conspicuously after a Moscow-Bishkek loan agreement, is a major hub for getting American soldiers into and out of Afghanistan. Are troops considered ‘millitary’ goods and will this new agreement restrict them going through Manas? This is a crucial question.
The Obama administration does deserve credit for making this a priority as losing the base would have been a strategic defeat on several grounds, but I think the real winners here is the Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s Kyrgyz government. They were able to play off Washington with Moscow and ended up with funds from both sides. This deal also lets the Kyrgyz government look stronger to its people as they are dictating terms to the Americans. They played their relatively weak hand beautifully. I mean did anyone really think that they didn’t want the millions of dollars the US was throwing at them?