News / Asia

Political Volatility Threatens Key US Staging Base for Afghan War Effort

Multimedia

Audio
James Brooke

In the past six months, Kyrgyzstan has seen one president toppled by a street mob, hundreds of people killed in ethnic pogroms, and rebellions by two regional politicians.  Now, 200 parties are campaigning in an election set for October 10th that is to yield a new, parliamentary style government.  In the middle of this political turmoil, the United States quietly runs an air base that fuels one-third of air operations over Afghanistan and is the single largest jumping off point for coalition soldiers flying into Afghanistan.

For American soldiers of the 101st Airborne, Manas Air Transit Center is a welcome patch of America in the heart of Central Asia.

Tankers from Manas fuel jets over Afghanistan, eliminating the need to ever land in the mountainous nation.  And Taliban attacks on truck convoys through Pakistan make the air route through Kyrgyzstan increasingly valuable.

Colonel Dwight Sones, the Manas Center commander, said "Kyrgyzstan in itself is really the crown jewel of Central Asia, in terms of its location, its sphere of influence with the surrounding countries."

Manas Air Transit Center provides key location

Taliban attacks on trucks coming along the southern route, through Pakistan, have made the northern air route - through Kyrgyzstan - increasingly valuable.

Ethnic Krygyz and ethnic Uzbek turned on each other in Osh, the week Colonel Sones arrived in Manas, some 320 kilometers away.  Hundreds died. In the past, Kyrgyz political passions have turned against the U.S. base. Last year, the Kyrgyz parliament voted 78 to one to expel the Americans. Washington turned the situation around by nearly quadrupling the annual rent, to $60 million.

Politics at play in region

Kyrgyz scholar Alisher Khamidov said, "Now these parties are agitating again for kicking the base out. They are arguing, 'Look, this western presence is the cause of all our troubles.' I have seen some politicians calling for the eviction of this base, with the hope, with the expectation that Kyrgyzstan will regain its stability, and its sovereignty."

Opposition also comes from Russia.  Moscow ruled Kyrgyzstan from 1876 until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Today, Kyrgyzstan is the only nation in the world to host both an American and a Russian base.  Leonid Bondarets is a Russian advisor.

Bondarets said the U.S. base opened in 2001 on a temporary, one-year lease.  He sees it as part of a larger American plan to strengthen its position in the region, winning access to oil and gas in Central Asia and minerals in Afghanistan.

Russia retains a lot of influence here.  Most people over 30 speak Russian.  One-fifth of Kyrygz workers work in Russia.  The money they send home to Kyrgyzstan is a valuable economic lifeline for this impoverished, landlocked nation of 5.3 million people.

US makes extra effort to help

Americans at Manas are working overtime to win local hearts and minds.  American money is digging wells, roofing schools, buying local crafts, and building a women's shelter.  Base commander Colonel Sones said, "We also have the social-cultural aspect of it where we take the uniforms off, and we get into sports gear, and if we have the chance to play volleyball or soccer or go down and see a ballet downtown, have the mayors come out for a fourth of July celebration - that is all part of that team building."

In the capital Bishkek, political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev said Kyrgyz' attitudes are softening toward the U.S. base.   He said mainstream politicians are starting to value the base for contributing to the national budget, for development projects, upgrades to Bishkek's international airport and employing 900 local workers.

So, in the rollercoaster that is Kyrgyz politics, the U.S. is gambling that goodwill and dollars will carry the day,  
keeping open this vital back door to Afghanistan.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More