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

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid