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Gates Says US Needs Military Base in Former Soviet Nation

05 June 2007

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says a controversial U.S. military air base in Kyrgyzstan is needed in the fight against terrorism. Lawmakers in the Central Asian country recently called on the Kyrgyz government to evict American forces from the base. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

The United States currently has around 1,200 troops in Kyrgyzstan, where they provide critical air support to U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

After a brief meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Manas air base remains a key outpost in the war on terror.

"I think what's important for the people of Kyrgyzstan to understand is that our use of Manas is in support of a larger war on terrorism in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on earth," he said.

Tensions over the U.S. base are on the rise throughout the strategically important region.

Both China and Russia are pressing for an end to the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan.

Local opposition inside the former Soviet nation is also mounting following a series of controversial incidents involving the U.S. military.

Last September, a U.S. tanker accidentally damaged the Kyrgyz president's personal jet as it was taxiing across the airport's runway.

A few months later, an American soldier shot and killed a local truck driver near the air base.

The Unites States currently pays an estimated $150 million a year to lease property, up from around $20 million in 2005.

U.S. forces lost a similar foothold in neighboring Uzbekistan in 2005 after the government there evicted the troops over U.S. criticism of the country's human rights record.

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