The Defense Department has welcomed an agreement reached Tuesday for continued U.S. use of an air base in Kyrgyzstan to support military operations in Afghanistan.
Defense Department spokesman Lawrence DiRita welcomed the agreement as an important component of U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan and to fight terrorism.
"There are still a lot of operations going on in that region of the world, so we will continue to need the cooperation of other countries in the region," said Lawrence DiRita. "So, we welcome the assistance that we may get from the Kyrgyz, and it reflects, to some extent, an important understanding of what is going on there."
The agreement for continued U.S. and coalition use of the Manas Air Base, near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, was reached Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The two issued a joint communiqué during Secretary Rice's visit to Bishkek, and at a news conference President Bakiyev said the United States can continue to use the base as long as necessary to restore stability in Afghanstan.
Access to the Kyrgyz base became more important in July, when the government of neighboring Uzbekistan gave the United States six months to vacate a base there.
The Uzbek move came after a decision by a regional organization to call for an end to U.S. access to bases in the area. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization groups Central Asian states as well as China and Russia.
Shortly afterwards, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Kyrgyzstan and got informal approval for the continued use of the Manas base. The agreement reached Tuesday formalizes that understanding, and President Bakiyev says any decision to terminate the arrangement will be made jointly.
The agreement includes a requirement for a review of U.S. payments for past use of the facility. The United States pays about $50 million a year to use the base, and the current Kyrgyz government believes that former officials ousted in a revolution in March may have stolen some of the money.
The United States is also involved in a dispute about payments for use of the Uzbek base. The Defense Department agrees that it owes Uzbekistan about $20 million, but some members of congress object to sending the money to a government that is evicting the U.S. military and has been criticized for its human-rights record.
Mr. DiRita, says the Defense Department wants to pay all its obligations.
"It is very important to scrub [examine] all those requests for funds and make sure that they are consistent with our understanding of what services were provided, but it is very important that the United States be seen as a country that pays its obligations in this regard, particularly with countries that have not had a long history of interaction with the United States," he said. "We are asking for more countries to join this coalition, and to be seen as willing and ready to honor our obligations is an important component of countries saying, 'I want to be with the United States'."
The United States has about 1,000 troops at the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan to service the aircraft that come and go, supporting military operations in Afghanistan. The base is farther from Afghanistan than the Uzbek base, but U.S. officials say if Uzbekistan follows through with its eviction order they will use a combination of facilities, including the Kyrgyz base, to make up for the capability that will be lost.