Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Is Kyrgyzstan base closure a big deal?
I pose this question because I really want to know...why is Kyrgyzstan's decision to close our airbase there such a big deal? The Reuters article describes the airlift hub as "vital for supplying U.S.-led troops fighting in Afghanistan". Despite 27 years in the Air Force, I'm not an expert on such matters, so maybe that's why I can't figure out what's so "vital" about the airbase.
Take a look at the map (click it if you need a larger version). Kyrgyzstan is land-locked and isn't significantly closer to Afghanistan than any US or allied airbase in Europe or the Middle East from where supplies and troops headed for Afghanistan might originate. OK, so it makes sense to have a nearby staging area outside the theater of operations IF the theater of operations is so hot you don't dare risk staging troops and equipment within it, say at Bagram Air Base. While Afghanistan is far from peachy, I'd say the Kyrgyzstan airbase is more convenient than vital. I just don't see why troops and equipment can't be flown directly into Afghanistan rather than first stopping in Kyrgyzstan.
I suspect what this is really about is the symbolism of a regional ally, an alliance which Russia has chafed at from the start. Russia paid Kyrgyzstan a paltry $2 billion and in return the Kyrgyz government is giving us the boot. The symbolism was important to the US as a display of broad consensus in the war on terror, but a constant rock in Russia's shoe.
Like I said...I'm not an expert on this stuff, so if anyone reading this has other ideas, I'd love to hear them.