Kyrgyz parliament approves US base closure
Bishkek, Feb. 19 (ANI): Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted today to close a key U.S. air base in the country a move that could hamper US President Barack Obama's efforts to increase the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Deputies voted 78-1 for the government-backed bill to cancel the lease agreement on the Manas air base, a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan. Two deputies abstained.
If President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signs the bill and Kyrgyz authorities issue an eviction notice, the United States will have180 days to vacate the base, The News reported.
S Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was heading the two-day gathering, even said that he had largely given up hope that NATO countries would be willing to commit more troops to Afghanistan.
Instead, Gates said he would stress the need for help later this spring and summer to counter militants and improve security for planned elections there, something NATO officials have already said would require 10,000 reinforcements.
"I hope that it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases," Gates said, who floated the idea of more non-military expansion, such as training Afghan police and deterring opium growers.
Besides the need to enhance security before this summer's electoral campaign, NATO allies will also be expected to provide more financial assistance to the cash-strapped government in Kabul and to supply additional military equipment to the Afghan army.
"A lot of NATO countries, including Poland, are convinced that the alliance's strategy needs to be revised," Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said.
The meeting in Krakow coincides with intense diplomatic efforts to secure new supply routes for the NATO forces in landlocked Afghanistan, as an alternative for current corridors through Pakistan, which has become insecure due to increasing Taliban attack.
Russia is a key transit route for overland logistics lines, and the new US administration has acted quickly to relieve Bush-era tensions with Moscow sparked by Kosovo's declaration of independence, the Russia-Georgia war and by plans to set up a US missile shield in Eastern Europe. (ANI)