U.S. gains indefinite continued use of air base in Kyrgyzstan

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won assurances from Kyrgyz authorities Tuesday that U.S. forces can continue to use an airbase near the Kyrgyz capital.

"The base at Manas will stay as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires," Maj. Gen. Ismail Isakov, the Kyrgyz defense minister, said during a news conference with Rumsfeld, reports the AP.

After his election on July 10, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had said that in light of progress toward stabilizing Afghanistan it was time to consider a U.S. exit from Manas International Airport, where about 1,000 U.S. troops are stationed.

At the news conference, Rumsfeld declined to comment on the future of U.S. access to Manas, saying it was a matter for the Kyrgyz government to decide.

But as he was approaching his plane to depart, Rumsfeld told a small group of U.S. troops that they should not wonder about the future U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan, saying they should not be thinking about packing their bags any time soon.

In remarks at the start of his meeting with Bakiyev, Rumsfeld congratulated his government on the conduct of the election. The U.S. use of Manas for air support operations in Afghanistan contributes about $50 million (Ђ41.4 million) a year to the Kyrgyz economy, according to U.S. officials.

The Uzbek government has raised doubt about continued U.S. access to Karshi-Khanabad air base, which has been used as a staging point for operations in Afghanistan since the start of the war in October 2001.

Earlier Shanghai Cooperation Organization issued a statement calling for the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing its forces from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

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