As U.S. Retreats, Russia Advances

As the U.S. winds down its effort in Afghanistan, a collateral consequence is loss of the ability to project power in Central Asia. Reuters reports on the imminent closing of a base in Kyrgyzstan that played a key role in supplying allied troops in Afghanistan:

The United States on Tuesday handed back its only Central Asian airbase to the government of Russia’s close ally Kyrgyzstan, as President Barack Obama winds down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Moscow makes a comeback in its old imperial backyard.

In a move aimed at pleasing its former overlord Russia, parliament in Kyrgyzstan voted a year ago to give Washington until July 11 to vacate the Manas Transit Center, which has served U.S. operations in Afghanistan since 2001.

The base, at the main civilian airport in the former Soviet republic, moved more than 5.3 million servicemen in and out of Afghanistan and handled tens of thousands of cargo shipments and refueling missions.

Reuters is surprisingly candid in describing how things have been going for the U.S. in foreign policy:

Obama is beset by foreign policy difficulties, from Ukraine to Syria, while Putin is riding high with the Russian public after annexing the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in a move that the West condemned but was powerless to prevent.

Russia originally green-lighted our use of the Kyrgyzstan base, but Putin now wants America gone:

Russia gave its consent to Washington and its NATO allies to use Central Asia as a staging post for the Afghan war after the al Qaeda attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

But Moscow later became increasingly wary of foreign military presence in the region it considers its sphere of influence. After his election in 2011, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev promptly assured Russia the Manas base would be shut.

In the past 13 years, it has been the main staging post for troops of 26 countries on their way in and out of Afghanistan, and provided mid-air refueling of combat aircraft.

“We literally moved 98 percent of all ISAF and coalition forces into and out of Afghanistan,” Millard said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The American ambassador, Pamela Spratlen, held a news conference at the base earlier today. Reuters reports that she “deftly avoided a question about Russia’s growing influence in resource-rich and strategically located Central Asia as the United States retreats from Manas.” She, and the Obama administration, can dodge the question, but they can’t evade the consequences of America’s retreat from the world.