BISHKEK – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged Kyrgyzstan to abandon plans to shut a U.S. military air base used to support operations in Afghanistan, a senior Kyrgyz official said on Saturday.
Kyrgyzstan announced its decision in February after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia. Washington says it is in talks to persuade the tiny Central Asian nation to keep the base but Kyrgyzstan has said its decision is final.
Stepping into the diplomacy surrounding the fate of the Manas air base, Karzai sent a personal appeal to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev urging him to ditch the plan, said Maksim Kaganer, deputy head of the Kyrgyz presidential secretariat.
Karzai thinks that if the Afghan people cannot defeat the forces they are fighting against right now, this would have broader consequences for Central Asia, Kaganer, a key figure in Bakiyev's administration, told Reuters.
And this is why he asked Bakiyev to look into the possibility of keeping the U.S. and coalition air base.
Afghanistan officials have not been available for comment.
Karzai and Bakiyev are expected to attend a June 15-16 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a grouping of Central Asian states dominated by Russia and China, in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
Washington is sending an extra 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan this year in a bid to turn the tide of a war senior U.S. officials have acknowledged they are not winning.
Kyrgyzstan's decision to close Manas, the last remaining U.S. air base in Central Asia, poses a challenge to this plan.
Moscow sees Central Asia, a vast former Soviet region wedged between Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and China, as part of its traditional sphere of interest and has criticized the U.S. military presence there.
Russia operates its own air base in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous and impoverished nation of five million, to counter balance U.S. efforts to boost its influence in the region.
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Jon Hemming)