Military preparing to depart from Manas
Stars and Stripes
Despite negotiations and high-level requests to keep the U.S. air base at Manas open beyond this summer, the Air Force is still preparing for it to close in mid-August.
Kyrgyzstan has ordered the United States to leave the air base — a major supply hub for the Afghan war — by Aug. 18. But in recent days, officials from President Barack Obama to Afghan President Hamid Karzai have made appeals to the Kyrgyz government to reconsider.
On Monday, the outgoing commander of the base, Col. Christopher Bence, told Kyrgyz and international media that "we have started shipping equipment and supplies to other locations and those shipments should be finished by August 18."
Also on Monday, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was scheduled to meet with Karzai at an international conference in Russia. The future of the American base — which Karzai has said is key to a stable future for Afghanistan — was expected to come up.
Manas, which shares space with Bishkek international airport, has been used to transport tens of thousands of personnel into and out of Afghanistan since December 2001.
The closure could hamper efforts to support Obama’s plan to send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year.
In late February, Uzbekistan announced it would allow the United States to transport non-military supplies through its territory, a reversal of a 2005 decision that shut an earlier U.S. air base in that country. Money, along with regional competition with Russia, appears to be a central issue. U.S. operations at the base contributed around $64 million to the Kyrgyz economy in fiscal 2008, officials have said.
The money included $17.4 million in payments for use of the base, $22.5 million for airport operating and land lease fees, and $23.7 million in contracts such as construction projects and commodity purchases.
In the same time frame, Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers flew 3,294 refueling missions from the base to support air operations over Afghanistan, officials said. More than 170,000 coalition personnel passed through the base on their way in or out of Afghanistan, and Manas was the transit point for 5,000 tons of cargo, including spare parts and equipment, uniforms and various items to support personnel and mission needs.
Currently, around 1,000 U.S. troops, along with a few hundred from Spain and France, are assigned to the base.
The Kyrgyz parliament voted to close the base shortly after Russia pledged some $2 billion in aid and loans to the country, which is a former Soviet republic.