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U.S. Air Base In Kyrgyzstan Says No Sign Of Closure

U.S. soldiers at the Manas military air base
BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The United States has said it had received no official notification from Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. air base in the Central Asian country and U.S. officials said they hoped negotiations would go on.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said in Moscow on February 3 his government had decided to shut down the Manas air base, set up in 2001 after the start of the U.S.-led military campaign against Taleban and Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: "We have been discussing the base with Kyrgyz authorities for some time now. We hope those discussions will continue to the point where we reach some mutually beneficial outcome."

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek said on February 4 it had received no formal notification that the base would be shut.

Bakiev's statement was made at a time when the United States is planning a major troop buildup in Afghanistan and is seeking to reinforce supply routes that bypass Pakistan, where convoys have been attacked by militants.

On his visit to Moscow, Bakiev received a promise of more than $2 billion in credit and aid from Russia to assist his impoverished country, a former Soviet republic.

Russia, annoyed about the presence of U.S. troops in a region it considers as part of its strategic sphere of interest, has long pressured Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas base, home to more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel.

Moscow operates its own military air base in Kyrgyzstan.

Iskhak Masaliev, a Kyrgyz member of parliament, said the United States would be given 180 days to remove its forces once it had received official notification of the termination of its contract for the air base.

"Basically, Kyrgyzstan had to make its choice. And it has now made its strategic choice," said Masaliev, who represents Kyrgyzstan's communists in parliament.

U.S. officials said while the Manas base was important, any decision to close it would not halt military operations in Afghanistan.

"The United States and coalition forces will be able to continue operations in Afghanistan without the Manas base," U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said in Washington.

In Moscow, Russian President Medvedev said despite Kyrgyzstan's decision, both countries would carry on cooperating with the United States on Afghanistan.

New U.S. President Barack Obama plans to boost U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan to try and combat an intensifying insurgency.

The United States currently has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan and U.S. officials have said the planned build-up could grow to include as many as 30,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.