A crew chief guides a KC-135 Stratotanker Feb. 24, at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, after the base's last combat-refueling mission over Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards/Air Force)
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The last U.S. personnel are expected to leave the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, by the end of the week, a spokesman for Air Forces Central Command said Tuesday.
The Air Force held symbolic ceremonies Tuesday transferring back the facilities to the Krygyz government, said Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis. The transfer and inactivation become official after the expiration of the current lease next month and departure of military personnel in a few days.
“There are no U.S. military aircraft remaining at Manas,” Sholtis said in an email to Military Times. “The facilities at the center — along with approximately 65 pieces of excess equipment or vehicles ranging from de-icing machines to pickup trucks — will be included in the transfer. Serviceable military equipment was transported back to the United States or other military installations overseas; unserviceable equipment was disposed of through a certified disposal facility that was established at the base.”
For most of the war in Afghanistan, Manas had been a major transit hub for U.S. troops headed to and returning from Afghanistan, but the U.S. lease on the base expires this month because the Kyrgyz parliament voted last year to end the lease. The last passengers flew from Manas to Afghanistan on Feb. 28.
With the war in Afghanistan coming to an end, the transit center’s importance has waned. President Obama has approved keeping 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after this year if the next Afghan president signs a bilateral security agreement with the U.S., which would withdraw almost all of its troops by the end of 2016.
As of early February, a new transit center at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania has been operational, serving as a jumping off point for troops headed to Afghanistan.
The hub in Romania is also ideally suited for supporting missions in Central and South Asia, an official with U.S. Transportation Command told Air Force Times in April.
Both TRANSCOM and U.S. European Command “will continue to work with our proven Romanian partners to enhance access at this valued site,” Army Maj. Jeremiah O’Connor said in an email.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government is looking for opportunities to increase training exercises in Romania and other countries in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has said that NATO needs to take a “hard look” at how its forces are arrayed in Europe.
“NATO must be prepared to respond effectively in a security environment affected by a country that conducts snap exercises and masses armed forces on borders to influence events inside that country,” Breedlove told Military Times in May. “In order to be more responsive there are a number of steps that can be taken. One of these to be considered is positioning. Again, these decisions are made at the political level.”