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US Looks to Uzbekistan for Alternate Afghan Supply Route

By VOA News
05 February 2009

Diplomatic and defense sources say the United States is considering a military deal with Uzbekistan for an alternative supply route for NATO forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials are working on backup plans should the government of Kyrgyzstan make good on its threat to close the Manas air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

The Associated Press and Reuters news agency report that U.S. officials are discussing the idea of resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan despite rocky relations between the two nations. The U.S. operated a base there until 2005, when Uzbekistan evicted U.S. forces after tensions flared over a bloody crackdown on anti-government Uzbek activists.

Meanwhile, a draft bill to close Manas has been submitted to the Kyrgyz parliament. The vote is expected to take place next week. U.S. and Kyrgyz officials say talks are continuing over the fate of the base.

Both the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department say the United States has not yet gotten any formal communication from Kyrgyzstan about its decision to close the Manas base.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced plans to shutter it on Tuesday while he was in Moscow, shortly after the Central Asian nation secured two billion dollars in loans and aid from Russia.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov today said the decision has nothing to do with the Russian loans.

The facility is the only U.S. military base in Central Asia. The possibility of the base closure poses a serious challenge to U.S. plans to send up to 30,000 more American troops into Afghanistan this year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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