US military begins shift out of Manas air base

US military begins shift out of Manas air base
Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:45:32

The US military has begun moving its Afghanistan air logistics base in Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Transit Center to a base in eastern Romania in preparation of a complete shift by July 2014, when its contract to use the Kyrgyz base for the US-led Afghan operations comes to an end.

The announcement of the American transition from Manas to a new military air base in eastern Romania at forward operating site Mihail Kogalniceanu, followed a Friday visit to the US Defense Department by Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa.

The US leased the Kyrgyz air base near the capital Bishkek for over a decade as part of logistics support for the US-led military operations in Afghanistan, in order to refuel airlift transports carrying cargo and troops.

The Romanian air base on the Black Sea has already been used by the US military since 1999 and according to a 2005 agreement, the American military has been granted access to several bases in European country for training, storage, and deployments.

In June, the Kyrgyz Parliament passed a bill that ended the US lease of Manas Transit Center.

In 2009, Kyrgyzstan's then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev planned to shut down the transportation hub, but instead rebranded it as a transit center in order to allow it to continue operations. This U-turn came after Washington agreed to triple its lease payment to about $60 million a year following Russian promises of $2 billion in loans to the Kyrgyz government.
Bakiev was then ousted in a public uprising, and after a period of turmoil was replaced by newly elected President Almazbek Atambayev. After assuming Kyrgyzstan’s highest office in 2011, he announced that Bishkek does not plan to renew the lease after it expires in July 2014. 

The US base has been at the center of several scandals since its opening in 2001, including the fatal shooting of a local man by an American guard at a base checkpoint. The killing was not prosecuted by Kyrgyzstan, as US Military personnel have legal immunity in the country. Critics also voiced concerns over environmental damage and potential threats from US enemies against the stronghold.

In addition, Bishkek took issue with the US paying hundreds of millions of dollars to secretive contractors for fuel supplies. Following the revolt in 2010, the new government accused two contractors - Mina Corp and Red Star Enterprises - of making a deal with the former leader’s son to ensure access to Manas. The agreement with the companies was eventually scuttled upon further scrutiny from Washington.

The US and Romania previously agreed on the construction of a land-based Aegis missile defense system aimed at shielding against weapons fired from Iran. Work on the system is set to begin later this month.


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