By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today thanked Kyrgyzstan for its continued support for operations in Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism. During a joint news conference here following a meeting with Gen. Lt. Ismail Isakov, the Kyrgyz defense minister, Gates said he looks forward to expanding the two countries' bilateral relationship and security cooperation arrangements.
Gates said his "frank discussions" with Isakov addressed a range of issues, including the continued U.S. use of Manas Air Base to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan. A contingent of about 1,000 U.S. troops based here provides logistical support for Operation Enduring Freedom.
The secretary reminded reporters that use of the base -- an issue that has generated debate in some circles here -- is critical in fighting global extremism.
"I think what is important for the people of Kyrgyzstan to understand is that our use of Manas is in support of a larger war on terror in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on earth," Gates said.
Gates emphasized the impact the air base has in that effort. "We are all working to try and prevent a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan," he said. "Our use of Manas is one way in which Kyrgyzstan can play a very positive and constructive role in cooperation with many other nations, not just the United States."
The secretary traveled here from Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. military commanders and Afghan leaders to assess progress there.
Following his meeting today with Isakov, Gates met with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The two were expected to discuss reforms within the Kyrgyz military to strengthen and modernize it for 21st-century challenges.
Last week, the Kyrgyz president outlined military reforms during a speech marking the 15th anniversary of the country's armed forces.
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