BISHKEK (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday Washington’s agreement to use a military air base in Kyrgyzstan was necessary to support the war in Afghanistan.
Last month Kyrgyz lawmakers urged the government to evict U.S. troops from the base which is an important hard currency earner for the impoverished Central Asian state.
“I think what’s important for the people of Kyrgyzstan to understand is that our use of Manas (Air Force Base) is in support of a larger war on terrorism in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on earth,” Gates said.
“We are all working to try and prevent a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and our use of Manas is one way in which Kyrgyzstan can play a very important and constructive role in cooperation with many other nations, just not the United States,” he told reporters after meeting Kyrgyzstan’s minister of defense.
The United States has about 1,200 U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz officials have demanded Washington pay more for the use of the base.
Gates defended the 2001 military agreement that allows the United States to use the base in the former Soviet nation.
“The arrangements that we have at Manas are similar to those that other nations have who have military forces here in Kyrgyzstan,” Gates said, in a veiled reference to Russia.
“I think that seems appropriate.”
The U.S. military presence in Central Asia suffered a blow in 2005 when Uzbekistan expelled U.S. troops from a base following Western condemnation of the use of force to quash a revolt in the town of Andizhan.