US stops refueling tanker planes supporting Afghan war in price dispute at key transit base
The U.S. military has stopped refueling tanker planes at its Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan as the U.S. renegotiates fuel prices with the Kyrgyz government, officials said Tuesday.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman and other U.S. military officials said flights continue to ferry military personnel and supplies to and from Afghanistan through Manas.
But in an effort to conserve fuel, officials said, the tanker planes used to refuel aircraft operating over the battlefields of Afghanistan are no longer stopping at Manas. Instead, the tankers are going elsewhere to pick up fuel.
"We are currently in discussions with the interim government to determine the optimal way to procure fuel in the future," Air Force Maj. John A. Elolf, a spokesman at the base said. "We have taken steps to conserve fuel at the transit center until the discussions are complete."
Operations at the base, which opened in December 2001, have long been the source of tension between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic. Several times, the Kyrgyz government appeared to be on the verge of closing it.
Last year, the government of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said it would terminate the lease. Kyrgyzstan later agreed to allow U.S. forces to stay after the annual rent was raised to about $63 million from $17 million.
A bloody uprising that culminated in the toppling of Bakiyev in early April again threw the future of Manas into doubt. But the interim government announced it would allow the base to remain open for another year when the current lease expires in July.
There were fresh tensions with Washington when Kyrgyz prosecutors alleged that companies owned by Bakiyev's son avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to Manas base.
Domestic and international critics suggested the U.S. may have turned a blind eye to irregularities in the fuel supply procedure to ensure the future of the base.
The Obama administration has pledged to ensure greater transparency in the supply of aviation fuel to Manas.
Transit Center at Manas http://www.manas.afcent.af.mil/
Source: AP News