The Pentagon said Thursday it is in talks with Kyrgyzstan's provisional government about fuel supplies for its operations at Manas air base, a key transit point for US troops headed to Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military's current fuel contract expires August 1, and a Defense Department team was in Bishkek to review "technical" requirements for a new fuel contract.
Fuel supplies at the base were briefly interrupted in late May, forcing the suspension of flights by KC-135 tanker planes out of the base to conserve fuel.
The disruption followed an attempt by the provisional government to impose a value added tax (VAT) on subcontractors supplying fuel to the US military, Whitman said.
The US side argued that the fuel was exempted from taxes under a US-Kyrgyzstan military cooperation agreement signed with the previous government, which was ousted in April after a bloody uprising.
The provisional government later suspended the VAT tax, at least temporarily resolving the dispute, but the issue may arise again under the new contract.
So Whitman said the US team was conducting "technical discussions to review in detail with the provisional government the requirements in order to ensure secure, reliable, uninterrupted supplies of fuel."
Manas is a key hub for US air refueling tanker planes and for the giant transport planes that ferry US troops and supplies to and from Afghanistan.
NATO has increasingly relied on the Manas base, outside Bishkek in the country's north, as 30,000 additional US forces deploy to Afghanistan.
But the US military presence has irritated Russia, placing Kyrgyzstan at the center of a big power rivalry for regional influence.
Kyrgyzstan last year threatened to close the base after receiving a promise of more than two billion dollars in aid and loans from Moscow, which many saw as a sign of Russian resentment over the American operation.
Bishkek eventually agreed to keep the US base open after Washington more than tripled the rent paid to use Manas.
The US base operates round-the-clock, carrying out mid-air refueling missions and medical evacuations while transporting tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tonnes of cargo every month.
Source: AFP American Edition