US will consider military presence in Kyrgyzstan
BISHKEK: The U.S. will reconsider its military presence in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan once it winds down its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.
She offered no indication of whether the Obama administration hopes to maintain a presence at the Manas air base, which plays a central role in moving troops and supplies to support the war effort in Afghanistan.
Speaking to students and civic leaders in a live TV interview, Clinton noted that the U.S. and its NATO partners agreed last month in Lisbon, Portugal, to begin turning over control to local Afghan authorities in 2011, with a goal of completing that transition by the end of 2014.
"Then we will look to see if there is any continuing mission" for U.S. troops at Manas, she said.
Later, in a pep talk to American troops at Manas, Clinton said, "You're not going to be here indefinitely."
The U.S. has used Manas as a major transit point since the Afghan war began in 2001. The base has been a sore subject with regional giant Russia, which has objected to a U.S. military presence so close to its borders. It has also been the source of tension in U.S.Kyrgyz relations, in part because of Kyrgyz suspicion of corruption in contracts for supplying the air base with fuel.
Clinton said Thursday that the U.S. has agreed to include a Kyrgyz firm in the contracting for fuel supplied to Manas.
At a joint news conference with current President Roza Otunbayev, Clinton said the U.S. will help set up a Kyrgyz entity that would bid for a portion of the lucrative fuel supply contracts.
The two companies involved - Red Star Enterprises and Mina Corp, both based in Gibraltar - have denied any ties to the Bakiyev family. -Ap