BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 14 (UPI) -- The Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan will be used as a civilian transit center after international forces wind down their mission in Afghanistan, Bishkek said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Kyrgyz officials this week while en route to Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan's Manas Air Base is a key transit center for troops and supplies for the international military operation in Afghanistan. Panetta, during his visit, said the base was important to the mission because neighboring countries had blocked alternative routes.
The Kyrgyz Defense Ministry, in a statement, said Bishkek is interested in a secure and stable Afghanistan. Bishkek, the ministry said, is ready to participate fully in the mission and understands the strategic importance of the air base.
"At the same time the Manas Transit Center infrastructure will be used as a civil transit center after 2014," the ministry was quoted by Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg as saying. "This position is dictated solely by national interests of Kyrgyzstan."
International forces starting next will start the steps needed to hand security responsibility over to Afghan forces by 2014.