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Kyrgyzstan Moves to Shut Key U.S. Military Base

Kyrgyzstan's government submitted a draft bill to parliament Wednesday that would close a U.S. base that is key to the American military campaign in Afghanistan.

The move came a day after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the base would be shuttered and shortly after the Central Asian nation secured billions of dollars in loans and aid from Russia, which resents the American presence in a country that Moscow regards as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

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The possibility poses a serious challenge to the new U.S. administration and President Barack Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more American forces into Afghanistan this year.

Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan said the United States had received no formal notification of the closure.

Talks are due to continue on keeping the air base in the country, despite the Kyrgyz president's announcement, the embassy said in a statement.

The government said the decision to order the closure of the Manas base was made because the base has fulfilled its purpose of supporting military actions in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, "state institutions have been created, a Constitution adopted, a president was elected, and government was formed. All the necessary conditions are in place for the stable functioning of a government in Afghanistan," the statement said.

The Kyrgyz government also cited growing popular discontent with the U.S. military presence among its motivations for the closure. It also criticized U.S. obstruction of the investigation into the fatal shooting in December 2006 of a Kyrgyz truck driver by a U.S. serviceman during a security check at the entrance to the air base.

Officials have not specified when the closure might take place, but the agreement under which the base was established in 2001 specifies that the United States must be given 180 days notice.

The base, which is located with the Manas civilian airport near Kyrgyzstan's capital, is an important air-mobility facility, home to tanker planes that refuel warplanes flying over Afghanistan. It also supports airlifts and medical evacuation operations and houses troops heading into and out of Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan do not share a border.

The threat of closure comes at a time when increasing attacks on transport depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about the country's ability to protect vital supply routes — and increased the necessity for alternative routes through Central Asia. Some 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan.

A bomb attack on a bridge Tuesday severed the main supply route for U.S. troops through Pakistan, and assailants torched 10 stranded trucks on Wednesday.

Russia, although nominally supportive of the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, is wary of the U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan. Moscow established an air base in Kyrgyzstan one year after the U.S. base went into operation.

In a visit to the base last month, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that Manas would be key to plans to boost the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. He also said the United States currently pumps a total of $150 million into Kyrgyzstan's economy annually, including $63 million in rent for Manas.