A few months ago, U.S. forces were on the verge of losing Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan, a key installation supporting combat operations in Afghanistan.
Just four months ago, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev stunned Washington when he proposed evicting American forces from Manas. Kyrgyzstan's Parliament endorsed the measure, and a withdrawal from the airbase seemed all-but-inevitable. Many analysts detected the fine hand of Moscow in the decision; the Russians (reportedly) offered increased aid to the Bishkek government--if they would end the basing agreement with the U.S.
But it looks like our forces won't be leaving Kyrgyzstan anytime soon. On Tuesday, a Kyrgyz parliamentary committee approved a plan that will allow the U.S. military to continue using the airbase. In return, Washington is prepare to triple its rent payments for Manas, raising them to $51 million a year.
The deal comes at a critical time. With operations ramping up in Afghanistan, our forces need the airbase more than ever. Thousands of troops pass through Manas each month, as they rotate in and out of Afghanistan. The installation also serves as a forward base for U.S. tanker aircraft, which refuel fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft operating over the battlefield.
Without Manas, tanker units would be forced to operate much farther from Afghanistan, at bases in the Persian Gulf region. That would mean longer transit times to refueling tracks, decreased offloads, and more sorties to sustain current levels of support.
While many experts expressed doubts that Manas could "be saved," Defense Secretary Robert Gates remained optimistic. As a senior government official in four administrations, Dr. Gates understands that even sensitive matters--like basing rights--often come down to who can write the biggest check.