Kyrgyzstan: Quiet Flows the Fuel to Manas
Three to four times a day, every day, cargo trains carrying thousands of gallons of jet fuel roll across the Kazakh border into Kyrgyzstan, making their way across the flat, barren landscape toward Bishkek. These shipments are vital to keeping US and NATO military operations in Afghanistan going.
Destined first for a storage depot in Tokmok, a city just to the east of Bishkek, the jet fuel will ultimately end up in the tanks of US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft and in C-17 Globemaster military transports based at the Manas Transit Center – a key logistical center for the US and NATO war effort.
The transit center shares runways with Manas International Airport, the civil aviation hub serving Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. The facility is the main transit point for all US troops entering and leaving the Afghan combat theater, and, more importantly, serves as a staging point for the KC-135 aero-tankers that deliver almost half of all in-flight fueling operations in the skies over Afghanistan.
The jet fuel originates in Russia and is transported via Kazakhstan. At Manas, the fuel-supply operations are handled by Mina Corp., a secretive entity that on November 3 won an over $315 million Pentagon contract covering refueling responsibilities for most of 2011.
On the airbase, while US and foreign troops enter and exit transport aircraft in the background, US airmen hook up thick black hoses to the KC-135 planes, filling them in minutes with jet fuel used to extend the flights of bombers and fighters on missions over Afghanistan. About 15 refueling missions per day originate from Manas and three to four C-17 transport aircraft land and take off from the base, delivering fresh soldier and goods to Afghanistan or bringing tired warriors out.
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