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Kyrgyzstan Chaos Threatens Afghanistan Planning

It appears the opposition has taken power in Kyrgyzstan. The President flew out of the capital on a government plane, and the protesters have declared victory and are forming a government, planning to hold power for six months. This worries the US, not because they fear some tragedy that will befall former loyalists to the President, but mainly because they have a US base in the country.

For the United States, the upheaval is of particular concern because its Manas air base, near Bishkek, is a key transit point for supplying troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration negotiated new lease terms for the facility last year after (President) Bakiyev threatened to evict U.S. forces from the country.

Some in the Kyrgyz opposition accused the United States of ignoring allegations of rigged elections, suppression of independent media and physical intimidation of government critics, attributing its silence to a desire to maintain its military presence in Kyrgyzstan.

A new Kyrgyz government could sow fresh uncertainty over the base to express displeasure with Washington or to extract concessions. Some opposition members earlier called for closing the facility.

I know that human rights have been a dead letter in American foreign policy since, well, the Carter Administration, but I have to confess to at least a little shock at how silent this Nobel Peace Prize winner has been on that front. Kurmanbek Bakiyev was a pretty awful sort, basically a dictator who rigged elections and suppressed dissent. But as long as we had our fueling station there, the word “Kyrgyzstan” never crossed the lips of a White House official. Only now, when the people have taken over who may be disinclined to allow the basing rights to continue, do we hear any “concern” over the country.

For the record, the former foreign minister who is leading some of the opposition groups says that they will allow the US supply lines to “remain in place,” though they have some questions about it.

You may remember that there was a potential revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005, and the Bush Administration kept quiet and lent no support to it, for approximately the same reason that the Obama Administration is showing “concern” now: we have a base there.

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David Dayen

David Dayen