ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, April 13, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed confidence today that political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan won’t cause the United States to lose use of an air base that’s critical to supplying operations in Afghanistan.
Gates told reporters traveling with him to Peru he has no reason to believe that Krygyzstan’s new leader, Roza Otunbayeva, will renege on the lease for the transit center at Manas. Otunbayeva took power during unrest last week that ousted President Kurmanbek Makiyev.
“Everything I have been able to see or read suggests that there is a willingness to leave Manas open and to continue allowing our use out of it along the lines of the terms of the agreement,” Gates said.
He emphasized, however, that the United States has other options to supply troops in Afghanistan in the event that the agreement falls through. “We looked at a lot of alternatives last year when we were negotiating new base arrangements,” he said.
The United States renegotiated its lease for the base last year, tripling its rent when Kyrgyzstan threatened to cancel the lease agreement.
“There are other alternatives” to Manas, Gates said today. “I don’t want to get into the details, but there are other approaches … and facilities that we can use.” Gates expressed hope these alternatives won’t be needed, noting that they would be more expensive and logistically challenging than the transit center at Manas, just outside the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
Gates also noted the opening of the northern distribution network, which, along with ground routes through Pakistan, now provides much of the logistics support for Afghanistan operations.
“We have now delivered over 10,000 containers by the northern distribution network, which is a huge accomplishment,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)