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Rumsfeld in Kyrgyzstan for damage control

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew to Kyrgyzstan on Monday in an effort to quell a sudden turn-about in the Central Asian nation’s policy of support for the American effort in Afghanistan.

One day after winning the national election, president-elect Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the American military presence would no longer be welcome. The U.S. presently uses a former Soviet airfield at Manas International Airport in Bishkek, where it houses 1,200 troops in a support role for American forces operating in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld claims the policy shift is the result of pressure from Russia and China. Russia, meanwhile, is planning to increase its force located at another base in Kyrgyzstan.

Rumsfeld’s mission to protect U.S. support for its Afghanistan operations became more crucial because neighboring Uzbekistan already began reducing the American presence on its soil last May and says it is reconsidering allowing the U.S. to have a presence at all.

Rumsfeld played down the urgency, saying there are contingency plans already in order.