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Rumsfeld Thanks Kyrgyzstan for Support

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, April 27, 2002 – The people of Afghanistan are in far better circumstances today because Kyrgyzstan opened Manas International Airport to U.S. and coalition forces, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here this morning.

The secretary met with President Askar Akaev and other Kyrgyz officials to thank them for their support in the global war on terrorism.

Using Manas as a transportation hub has been "exceedingly helpful and valuable" to Operation Enduring Freedom, he said. About 2,000 U.S. and coalition forces from eight nations are flying missions from the air base.

"Afghanistan is, of course, a landlocked nation," Rumsfeld said. "Everything the United States and coalition forces have been able to do has had to be done by air. Whether it means bringing in troops, aircraft, supplies and equipment, or humanitarian assistance, it all has to start from an air base some distance from Afghanistan.

"Aircraft are able to fly over Afghanistan, and to be refueled and conduct security operations to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban from gathering and threatening the Afghan government," he added. At the same time, the Manas facility is crucial to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, he said.

U.S. relations with Kyrgyzstan, a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace, existed before the war on terrorism began and will continue after the war is over, Rumsfeld said. He said the relationship is not only based on military cooperation, but economic and political cooperation as well, "and thereby is a healthy and strong one."

Akaev welcomed Rumsfeld and said he was greatly honored by the secretary's visit. "Undoubtedly, this visit will provide new impetus to our relationship," the president said.

After meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the peaceful development of Central Asia, the two men held a press conference. Akaev told reporters he'd told Rumsfeld a story. He said history has shown that those who enter Afghanistan by way of Kyrgyzstan are successful. Since American and coalition forces were flowing through Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. led effort would succeed just as did Alexander the Great and Babar, the first Mongol emperor of India.

The United States and Kyrgyzstan share the same goals for Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said: "that it be a peaceful country, a successful country economically; that it no longer be a haven for terrorists or terrorist training camps; that its neighbors permit it to grow, prosper and recover from drought, war and the difficulties it has faced."

"So it is quite clear that the interests of the United States are notably different from those of Alexander the Great," he said, drawing laughter from the Kyrgyz leader.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWith a dramatic painting of Kyrgyzstan's mountains as a backdrop, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Kyrgyzstani President Askar Akayev hold a press conference in the White House in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on April 27, 2002. Rumsfeld said the people of Afghanistan are in far better circumstances today because Kyrgyzstan opened Manas International Airport to U.S. and coalition forces. Using Manas as a transportation hub has been "exceedingly helpful and valuable" to Operation Enduring Freedom, he said. About 2,000 troops from the United States and eight coalition nations are flying missions from the air base. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Kyrgyzstani President Askar Akayev say farewell at the close of a press conference in the White House in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on April 27, 2002.  
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