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US transit airbase in Manas, located on the territory of Bishkek’s commercial airport, was opened in December of 2001 to provide assistance for the US-led anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, code-named Operation Enduring Freedom and launched after the 9/11 tragic events in the United States. The airbase was due to close this July coinciding with the US troops’ pullout from Afghanistan.
“In line with the signed documents the US troops are obliged to leave our territory by July 10, but it is highly probable that the pullout will be completed by the middle of this month,” Kyrgyz First Deputy Defense Minister Zamir Suyerkulov said addressing during an official ceremony dedicated to the closure of the airbase.
US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Pamela Spratlen, who also attended the closing ceremony on Tuesday, voiced the same opinion as Suyerkulov did, saying she hoped that all US military servicemen would leave the airbase in a one-week period.
The United States decided to leave behind for the government of Kyrgyzstan its infrastructure facilities and equipment worth the total amount of $30 million, according to a statement made at the ceremony.
The July 10 deadline for the US troops’ withdrawal was approved by Kyrgyz parliament members last June. Over the airbase’s 12 years of operation, Manas carried out 33,000 refuelling missions and served 5.3 million of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops going to and from Afghanistan.
In the most recent incident, a court in Bishkek sentenced on Monday US citizen Branden Cornelius to four years in high security prison. Cornelius was detained in March for drunkenly resisting police officers, who apprehended him over his alleged attempt to rape a local woman.
According to investigators, police received a complaint from a local 22-year-old woman on March 9 that a foreign national, later identified as Cornelius, was trying to force her into a sexual intercourse. When policemen attempted to apprehend him, Cornelius resisted arrest, verbally insulted them, tore off epaulettes of a police captain’s uniform and later smashed an office table at a police station.
Before the incident with Cornelius, a public outcry gripped Kyrgyzstan in 2006, when US Air Force serviceman, Zachary Hatfield, fatally shot a Kyrgyz citizen at one of the airport’s checkpoints. Hatfield claimed that the man, who was driving a truck, threatened him with a knife during the vehicle’s inspection at the checkpoint.
The Manas Air Base later said in its official statement that the US soldier acted as his training required. Hatfield went back to the United States, when then-President of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev called for stripping of immunity all US soldiers deployed in Kyrgyzstan.