Panetta Visits Kyrgyzstan Defense Officials
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 13, 2012 Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta met here today with Kyrgyzstan’s defense leaders as part of a Central Asia tour to meet with government officials and service members.
Panetta thanked Minister of Defense Taalaybek Omuraliev and Secretary of Defense Council Busurmankul Tabaldiev for Kyrgyzstan’s contribution to regional stability through its hosting of the Transit Center at Manas International Airport.
U.S. troops traveling into and out of Afghanistan pass through the transit center, which last year included about 580,000 such passengers, defense officials said.
Panetta also affirmed his commitment to stand by the current transit center agreement through its expiration in July 2014, according to staff members traveling with the secretary. The United States pays $60 million annually to the Kyrgyz government for use of the center.
The transit center is vital to International Security Assistance Force efforts to disrupt and dismantle al-Qaeda and to prevent Afghanistan from serving as a safe-haven for extremist groups, officials said.
Panetta emphasized during meetings here, they said, that the center serves only one purpose: to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
The leaders also discussed the significant bilateral achievements of the 20 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, staff members said.
A senior defense official, speaking on background, said the Kyrgyz minister and secretary indicated they are open to discussing options for future cooperation on a range of issues, including the Transit Center at Manas.