Last Friday, the Pentagon announced that, by next July, all U.S. troops will leave Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The base has served as the most important transit center for U.S. and coalition troops entering and leaving Afghanistan by air, but that role will soon be replaced by a base in Romania.
The move comes in response to a July vote by Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to terminate the U.S. lease at Manas effective one year later, on July 11, 2014. It is not the first time Kyrgyzstan has threatened to end the arrangement. Unlike on previous occasions, this time Washington decided not to engage in what the U.S. ambassador to Russia had termed a costly game of bribery and influence-peddling in order to gain another extension.
The U.S. decision makes sense for a variety of reasons, but President Barack Obama’s statement about Iraq during the 2008 presidential campaign applies in Eurasia too: We must be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. In particular, the withdrawal decision will likely reinforce perceptions in Central Asia and the South Caucasus that the United States is abandoning these regions. Though that perception is partly true, the U.S. would do well to find ways to counter it to the extent that it is not.