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US moving cargo to Afghanistan through Romania

Sgt. Troy England (right) of the 615th Contingency Response Wing?s 571st Global Mobility Squadron directs cargo onto a Boeing 747 aircraft. The unit is part of an effort to test whether Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base can serve as a potential hub for transiting supplies to Afghanistan. The nearly three-month mission involving two Air Force contingency response wings ends this month.

U.S. AIR FORCE/COURTESY TO STARS

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 27, 2011

This story has been corrected.

STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. cargo planes have been delivering weapons and other supplies to a U.S. Army brigade in Afghanistan from a Romanian air base on the Black Sea for nearly three months, as U.S. military officials assess how large a role Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base could play for the remainder of the war in Afghanistan. The base’s potential to serve as a logistical transport hub for other operations in the future also is being examined, military officials said.

“The general area there in Romania has road, air and sea capacity, so it’s very conducive,” said Lt. Col. Greg Derner, a logistics officer at U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart.

For the U.S., getting equipment in and out of Afghanistan has long been a struggle. Land transit through Pakistan has proven risky, with many convoys coming under Taliban attack in the tribal areas along the border. Political unrest in Kyrgyzstan disrupted flights from U.S.-operated Manas Air Base for a time, and Russia has restrictions on what can move through its territory.

While the Romanian base wouldn’t eliminate all the challenges of transporting equipment and supplies into Afghanistan, running more missions out of Romania would ease some of the existing pressures, Derner said. The assessment of the base’s potential as a “multi-modal” hub is expected to take several months and will include input from three commands: Central Command, Transportation Command and EUCOM, Derner said.

Since May, U.S.-based Contingency Response Wings have been operating at Mihail Kogalniceanu, testing the air field’s capacity. Currently, about 70 airmen are finishing the final phase of the operation — delivering 1,000 tons of equipment to the recently deployed 172nd Infantry Brigade out of Grafenwöhr.

“This is the stuff they need to function downrange,” said Lt. Col. John Platte, who is leading the California-based 615th Contingency Response Wing’s effort in Romania.

From Platte’s perspective, the mission has gone off without a hitch.

The 615th picked up the mission after a New Jersey-based wing completed the first leg of the exercise earlier this summer. During the initial phase, members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing moved nearly 1,000 tons of equipment in and out of Afghanistan during a three-week deployment.

Part of what makes the airfield so appealing is its proximity to the Black Sea port of Constanta, a key logistical link that opens access to other transit routes. Another advantage is that Romania, a NATO member, would allow equipment to flow both in and out of Afghanistan, Derner said. Not all countries allow traffic to flow both ways, he said.

But if the U.S. moves forward with a plan to ramp up transit operations in Romania, don’t expect large numbers of U.S. troops to be sent to execute the mission. Instead, a more likely scenario would involve U.S. TRANSCOM contracting out much of the work to local nationals. That would free up U.S. military assets and personnel for other assignments, while also giving a boost to the local economy, Derner said.

“The military would be in a supervisory role,” Derner said. “We don’t foresee at all basing people out there.”

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

CORRECTION: This story originally misstated the amount of equipment delivered to and from Afghanistan by the 621 Contingency Response Wing during a three- week deployment.

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