U.S. soldiers construct new facilities in Romania to prepare for the U.S. shifting operations from Kyrgyzstan. (photo: Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr., 21st TSC Public Affairs)
The U.S. military will start shifting operations away from the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan to a new facility in February as it gradually winds down its presence in Central Asia. The U.S. presence at the new base in Romania, Mihail Kogalniceanu on the Black Sea coast, will also be significantly smaller than that in Kyrgyzstan. That's according to Maj. Gen. John O'Connor, commander of the Army's 21st Theater Sustainment Command, who gave an interview to Foreign Policy about the move.
The mission at MK won't be quite as large as the one at Manas -- a reflection, in part, that the size of the war in Afghanistan already has shrunk. Still, some 400 troops under O'Connor's command will be based there this year to process troops in transit, with the work beginning in days. A team of three colonels will be leading the transit mission at MK. In return for allowing the U.S. transit mission, the Romanian government will get an undisclosed amount of fuel, O'Connor said.
Manas has typically had a permanent staff of roughly 1,400 troops and 200 civilians and contractors working for the Defense Department. Between February and July, when the lease at Manas runs out, U.S. forces in transit could be sent through either Romania or Kyrgyzstan, with the mission eventually shifting entirely to Romania, O'Connor said.
Some drawing down has already occurred at Manas; according to one U.S. military newsletter (pdf). "The fewer numbers [sic] coming through Manas is apparent," the report said, quoting one soldier as saying “Our numbers have gone down because they have torn down about 30 tents in the past month or so." And according to another U.S. military press release, soldiers in O'Connor's command are "working long hours and beating tough deadlines to ensure facilities are ready" quickly. “Hopefully it makes things a lot easier [than in Manas],” said one soldier quoted in the release. “It’s a bigger facility, it’s nicer and it’s newer, so it should make things a lot easier for the soldiers.”
The new facility also will be cheaper to operate than Manas, according to the Foreign Policy piece:
MK is three times as far from Kabul as Manas, but it will cost the United States less to use it overall than Manas, said Mark Blackington, a spokesman with U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and southwest Asia. That's because while the Air Force's C-17s will have to fly farther out of Afghanistan to get to MK, the charter flights used to take the troops home from there will cost less than those flying out of Manas, he said.
One wonders, then, why they didn't move earlier...