Kyrgyzstan Open To Extending Manas Lease, Getting U.S. Drones
A top U.S. military official has finished a trip around Central Asia, and while most of the official news about his visits with the region's leaders was pretty vague, there were a couple of interesting items from Kyrgyzstan.
After meeting with the U.S. official, CENTCOM commander General James Mattis, the chair of Kyrgyzstan's national security council Busurmankul Tabaldiyev suggested that Kyrgyzstan is open to keeping the Manas air base open after 2014. That would be a shift from recent public rhetoric from Bishkek, which has stressed the need to close the base as soon as the current agreement expires in 2014. From 24.kg, quoting Tabaldiyev:
Kyrgyzstan is interested in ensuring security and stability in the country and is ready to participate fully in the efforts of the international community to assist Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz side expressed its readiness to assist the U.S. government to continue after 2014, but in the interests of the country, the views of the people and the security of Kyrgyzstan.
In his meeting with Mattis, Tabaldiyev also apparently broached the topic of getting drone aircraft from the U.S., reports RFE/RL:
Tabaldiev told RFE/RL the request was for U.S. drones to be left for Kyrgyzstan during the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan due by the end of 2014.
...Mattis, leader of the U.S. delegation, reportedly replied that Washington is ready to consider the request.
The U.S. will definitely be leaving some equipment behind in Central Asia after it pulls out from Afghanistan, but whether drones will be among the items left is not clear. It would seem unlikely, given that the U.S. doesn't really have an excess of drones, and that Kyrgyzstan may not be the most trusted recipient of serious military hardware like that. But is Tabaldiyev trying to strike a deal? Drones for extended access to Manas? It would certainly be a vivid demonstration that military cooperation with the U.S. is "in the interests of the country, the views of the people and the security of Kyrgyzstan."