What should we make of the shady fuel deals at Manas?

by Joshua Foust on 8/3/2010 · 3 comments

I have a guest post over at the Stimson Center’s Budget Insight blog, discussing some of the bizarre issues surrounding the contractors hired by the Pentagon to supply fuel to the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.

Manas has long represented a financial windfall for local contractors. In 2006, the FBI revealed that the family of Askar Akiev, who was President of Kyrgyzstan until a coup in 2005, maintained a vast criminal network extending to the administration, and in particular the fuel costs, at Manas. After the Akiev family was forced out of Bishkek by an angry mob, Kurmanbek Bakiyev took over rule of the country. Only, Bakiyev’s family was also involved in the overcharging of fuel at Manas—sometimes by as much as 100%. The corruption around this contract grew so severe it wound up playing a substantial role in this year’s latest revolution in the country.

Yet, the U.S. has very little idea of who owns the companies licensed to sell fuel at Manas. Regardless, the Obama administration extended the fuel contract earlier this year, essentially brushing aside concerns that it was fueling a corrupt enterprise. In any context, the fuel contract—worth $1 billion over the last six years—would be substantial. But in a place like Kyrgyzstan, channeling so much money into a single company was bound to create resentment and political conflict.

I should clarify that last sentence: just about anywhere on the planet would feel resentment if a small coterie of anonymous individuals made billions off a shady war contract. Anyway, comments and criticisms are always welcomed.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Kuda August 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Thanks Joshua for posting on this subject.


This link gives an overview for those unfamiliar with the broader (?) picture.

I feel these are the larger questions facing Kyrgyzstan. I.e. how to find a government who will manage, the very few, ‘resources’ Kyrgyzstan has.

The easy option is to judge the US as complicit partners in the crimes. That, in my opinion, is lazy and naive.

Would be interested to hear Kyrgyz comments.

No insights from me at this point as I have nothing to offer than the obvious.



tictoc August 4, 2010 at 3:35 am

Manas fuel contracts did not play a “substantial role in this year’s latest revolution in the country.” Corruption, in general, fueled public discontent. The issue causing the most public outcry was the steep increase in the price of electricity. The only people who keep buying this crap about the “revolution” being caused by the Manas fuel contract are American journalists dependent on English-speaking Kyrgyz elites for their information.

Also, the president before Bakiev was Askar Akayev (not Akiev) and I’d like to know where you’re getting this information that Akayev “maintained a vast criminal network.” Connections between organized crime and government seemed to increase under Bakiev, not Akayev.

Am I really supposed to believe that the Obama administration was responsible for the renewal of a supply contract at a small airbase in the middle of nowhere? It’s a lot of money, but not compared to the Pentagon budget. Try putting things in context. You’re also ignoring the fact that Russia handed over a couple hundred million dollars (which was also allegedly misused/stolen by the Bakiev clan).

This is also the first time I’ve ever seen anyone claim that the Pentagon is “overcharged” for the cost of fuel. Did you actually compare the price with the global cost of jet fuel? As I understand it, jet fuel was imported from Russia at a lower-than-market rate (because it wasn’t subject to export tariffs) and the contractor profited from the difference.

Dilshod August 4, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Couldn’t agree more. The country has really few resources to meet appetite of power groups. The Bakievs ignored this obvious thing and paid the price.
And generally, I’m quite pessimistic of democracies with no money. Democracy is expensive, it needs resources to sustain itself and donors are unlikely to keep feeding “Kirgiz” democracy for many more decades to come. Let’s be realistic.

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