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Can US supply Afghanistan war without Kyrgyzstan's Manas airfield?

The US military may retain access to Manas airfield – a key transit hub for the Afghanistan war – despite the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan. But given the weakness of other supply routes, the loss would deal a major blow.

By Staff writer / April 8, 2010

US military aircraft line up at the Manas US military base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in this Feb. 12, 2009 file photo.

Igor Kovalenko/AP/File


New Delhi

Opposition forces have forced the president of Kyrgyzstan to flee the capital and have declared a new interim government. Having taken over government buildings, they are now trying to solidify their overthrow and gain international recognition, though events remain fluid.

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The US has a major interest in the Central Asian nation: Manas airbase, a key transit hub for NATO soldiers and weaponry into Afghanistan.

Here’s a look at what the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan may mean for the US supply route into Afghanistan.

Will the toppling of the Kyrgyz government mean the loss of Manas airbase?

Experts are divided. On the one hand, the country’s post-Soviet politics involves clans vying over which powerful families will gain control over state businesses. That history suggests the new clan rising to power will want to renegotiate the lucrative deal with the United States, says Theodore Karasik, a Central Asia expert at the Institute for Near Eastern and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

“It raises the possibility of having to renegotiate access to Manas again because these clans just want more money,” he says. “This was a big source of income for these families who came to power” the last time.

The US pays $60 million in rent, and nearly triple that in fuel fees – money that had been flowing to relatives of toppled president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Those deals came after Mr. Bakiyev threatened to close the base in 2009, several years after he seized power in a similar popular uprising.

Other analysts disagree that a new deal will have to be negotiated. They say the interim government set up by the Bakiyev’s opposition still needs to unify Kyrgyzstan’s domestic divisions and win international backing.

“If the opposition talks about closing Manas they would burn their bridges with the West before building them,” says Oksana Antonenko, a Russian specialist with the Institute of International Strategic Studies in London. She adds: “The people who are putting this unity government together, I don’t think they are corrupt and looking to enrich themselves.”

How would the loss of Manas impact the US war effort in Afghanistan?

Manas became more crucial after Uzbekistan closed a similar base to the US military in 2005. NATO shifted the operations from Uzbekistan – refueling, moving troops and ammunition – to the Afghan airbase at Bagram.

A Manas shutdown would further strain the now-crowded Afghan base at a time when the US is still surging troops into Afghanistan. Security is also more of an issue at Bagram than at a base located outside the warzone.