Facing pressure from Russia and China to end America's military presence in two Central Asian states, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld won assurances Tuesday from Kyrgyzstan's new leaders that they would not shut down a U.S. base on Kyrgyz soil used for combat and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan.
The U.S. air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan and its air base at Karshi-Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan have become vital cogs in American anti-terrorism operations in Central Asia.
Serving as important conduits for humanitarian aid and military equipment sent to Afghanistan, they also are seen as part of a shift in Pentagon strategy that establishes within the world's hot spots small, rapid response outposts that can be quickly ramped up during crises. Central Asia, home to numerous Islamic extremist and terrorist groups, is one of those hot spots.
The continued use of those bases was put in doubt by a declaration July 5 by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security coalition made up of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The group called on the United States to fix a date for its pullout from its Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan bases.
Since then, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Kyrgyzstan's newly elected president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, have questioned the need for the U.S. bases in their countries, contending that Afghanistan for the most part has stabilized.
U.S. troops can remain at Manas and Karshi-Khanabad only as long as the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan allow them to stay.
After meeting with Rumsfeld on Tuesday in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, Kyrgyz leaders said Rumsfeld convinced them that Afghanistan remains volatile, and that Manas is needed to provide logistical support for operations there.
This is signifigant, and a triumph for American diplomacy.
While I am uncomfortable with U.S. support of Uzbekistan because of lack of Democracy and human rights issues, it must be acknowledged that these bases serve a number of important strategic goals, as well as the more tactical uses in Afghanistan.
The mere pressence of these bases provides a deterent effect and a stabilizing effect on the region, a region that will likely become more and more signifigant over the next several decades.