On June 26, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev formally signed a law “annulling” the country's agreement with the U.S. to host an air base in his country. The true significance of the law is unclear, and it could be a bargaining ploy to gain more favorable terms for a new agreement on the base, which has been the United States’ most conspicuous presence in Central Asia since being established shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Regardless, the passage of the law has highlighted how U.S. interest in Central Asia is destined to diminish as the U.S. extracts itself from Afghanistan.
In the short term, U.S. interest in Central Asia will remain keen. As the Pentagon pulls out its forces and equipment from Afghanistan, it is setting up transit agreements with neighboring states to allow materiel to be transported across their territory back home. While the U.S. already has such agreements for cargo going into Afghanistan—the so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN)—there are unique wrinkles with respect to cargo going out, requiring a new burst of U.S. diplomatic effort in Central Asia.
That will include efforts to prolong the presence of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, formally called the Transit Center at Manas. Its primary mission is to host and process U.S. and NATO forces heading into and out of Afghanistan, and as such it will play a vital role in the pullout. U.S. officials are likely to lobby Kyrgyzstan hard to allow the base to stay, if only for a short time, past the expiration of the current agreement in July 2014.