THREE DAYS after the US was given approval to continue using Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for the movement of troops into Afghanistan, it was asked to remove its personnel and aircraft for its Afghan operations from another important hub. On July 29, a notice was received at the US Embassy in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, to say that all US military aircraft and personnel must leave Kharshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan (commonly referred to as K2) within six months. No reason was given, although in recent months the Uzbek Government has been continually tightening restrictions at the base, including a ban on night flights.
The airfield has been an important hub for US operations in Afghanistan and options will have to be re-evaluated in order to assess alternative bases in the region. K2 had been a critical staging point since the earliest days of the war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001. In recent times, it has become a major base for the movement of supplies and humanitarian aid, and was also used as a refuelling stop for transport aircraft. However, commenting on the decision, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he did not believe US operations in Afghanistan would be significantly affected by Uzbekistan’s denial of the use of K2, as there were other air base options in the region. «We’re always thinking ahead,» he said. «We’ll be fine.»
Meanwhile at a news conference on July 29 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, France’s senior diplomat in the country, Eric Millet, said that 50 French troops and two French Air Force C-135FR tankers are to be stationed at Manas Air Base to support operations in Afghanistan. The personnel and equipment moved in on August 1 and will remain until November 6 in order to support the parliamentary elections due to take place in Afghanistan on September 18.