The National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee (of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) met for the hearing “Crisis in Kyrgyzstan: fuel, contracts and revolution along the afghan supply chain” last Thursday to discuss how the U.S. should engage with Kyrgyzstan after the overthrow of the Bakiyev government.
The hearing tackled a broad range of topics from the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, allegations of financial corruption tied to U.S. contractors and overall relations with the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan in terms of paving the way for democracy with the interim government.
Kyrgyzstan has been a key ally in the U.S. and NATO’s military efforts in Afghanistan by serving as a hub and refueling station for US and NATO aircraft. They have used the base as a transferring point for over 50,000 soldiers and aide workers.
Chairman John Tierney noted that many times in our history, the U.S. has overlooked corruption and human rights violations, as he called “unsavory regimes,” for bigger causes. We are left with the fact that both presidents were ousted from office and the U.S. has supported the two former regimes that fueled that corruption.
The U.S. now has the delicate responsibility of establishing trust and credibility with the interim opposition government, who sees the U.S. as a supporter of the Bakiyev regime.
Congressman Michael Turner said for 9 years, the base has helped U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and he realized upon visiting Kyrgyzstan several years ago just how strategic its location is to the mission. But our relationship, he said, with Central Asia shouldn’t exist solely because of the base and we shouldn’t “pigeon hole” them into simply a channel to Afghanistan.
Eugene Huskey, a professor at Stetson University, said the recent animosity towards the U.S. seen in Kyrgyzstan doesn’t reflect inherent anti-American sentiment, but rather, reflects popular frustration with leaders of the country selling its real estate to the highest foreign bidder. The U.S. might have to appeal to political parties in the upcoming election to maintain the base.
Alexander Cooley, a professor at Barnard College, said the base has become a symbol of U.S. indifference toward Kyrgyz human rights and democracy and a daily reminder of what the old regime had become.
Scott Horton pointed out two companies, Red Star and Minacorp that have been accused of fraud and bribery in Kyrgyzstan. According to a report from Eurasianet.org, the subcommittee will open an investigation into the Defense Department’s fuel contracting at the Manas Transit Center (the base) to determine if the companies had ties to the Bakiyev family. The subcommittee will also try to determine if the Pentagon, State Department or U.S. Embassy in Bishkek had prior knowledge of illegal activity.
Cooley said a pro-base political candidate would only be able to run on the promise that he or she would keep the base but negotiate its legal provisions.
“No one will get on board with business as usual,” he said.