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Khanabad, Uzbekistan
Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase
Camp Stronghold Freedom

Khanabad is located in the arid Qashqadaryo Province near the border with Tajikistan. The flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes makes it easy to spot anything approaching the base. Its summers are hot - its winters mild.

Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase is the home of Camp Stronghold Freedom, an Army logistics base in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. K-2 is at the site of an old, Soviet-era air base in Uzbekistan and general conditions are harsh. It is a very active site supporting OPERATION Enduring Freedom. Thousands of service members (mostly Army and Air Force, but some Marines) from various Guard, Reserve, and active duty units have worked at K-2 or are scheduled to go there soon. Some people who worked there are concerned that the environmental conditions may have affected their health.

Under an agreement reached during a visit by US Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfeld, Uzbekistan is allowing US forces to use Soviet-era military bases to support Operation Enduring Freedom. President Islam Karimov received security assurances, and an implied US commitment to ignorecomplaints about human rights violations in the country. The agreement distanced the country from its powerful neighbor, Russia.

By early October 2001 TV crews had staked out three Uzbek bases, and had filmed a US C-130 transport plane at Khanabad. On 05 October 2001 Uzbekistan gave permission for US troops and aircraft to base operations in the country, with a US troop presence expected to eventually grow to several thousand, including special operations forces. About 1,000 light-infantry troops from the 10th Mountain Division left Fort Drum in New York for Uzbekistan. The US Air Force was expected to deploy F-15 and F-16 aircraft, as well as special operations combat search-and-rescue units.

By mid-October 2001 there were three layers of security for 5 km around Khanabad, with the outer two layers manned by Uzbek forces and the inner layer manned by US troops. As of mid-October 2001 about 1,000 members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division were deployed to the Uzbek air base at Khanabad, about 90 miles north of the Afghan border.

Supporting US forces in Afghanistan and surrounding countries in Central Asia required surface transportation movements by train and truck across thousands of kilometers of some of the most forbidding territory in the world. Some shipments, after traveling by ocean carrier to Bremerhaven, Germany, journey by railcar to Uzbekistan.

After Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) surface shipments reach Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, the 164th Transportation Contract Supervision Detachment -- a Third Army element -- contracted private trucks to distribute the supplies to US and allied troops in Afghanistan. The sustainment supplies were shipped primarily to the Afghan cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Bagram, and, occasionally, Kandahar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The three main transportation nodes in the AOR - Bagram, Kandahar, and Karshi-Khanabad-operated multimodal port activities. The two primary modes of transportation to the AOR were fixed-wing coalition aircraft (primarily US) and commercial containerships.

The surface shipments originally started as a means of relieving pressure on the overburdened aircraft. Using civilian trucks has freed the aircraft to move high- priority, sensitive, and perishable cargo. Working with the 507th Logistics Task Force at Karshi-Khanabad, the 164th orders vehicles, coordinates passes, documents cargo, escorts trucks, and assists customers.

Surface transportation in Afghanistan began in December 2001 with contract trucks moving sustainment supplies from Karshi-Khanabad to Mazar-e-Sharif. The 164th contracted for local 20-ton Super Kamas trucks to make these shipments because of the trucks' size and capacity.

The air-conditioned tents at the base, named K2, are laid out on a grid, along streets named for the thoroughfares of New York: Fifth Avenue, Long Island Expressway, Wall Street. About 1,000 US troops worked at the facility as of August 2002, handling tons of supplies for the war in Afghanistan.

Expanding the supply chain to Kandahar has been the most difficult to arrange because of the distance from Karshi-Khanabad (1,500 kilometers) and the road conditions. The only successful route entails a 12-day transit over the Salang Pass, through Kabul, and into Kandahar.

Just one square mile in size, K-2 is also located within the borders of the Uzbek base, which provides an additional layer of protection for Airmen. The majority of facilities at K-2 were tents, which were slowly replaced by dorm-style billets. Other projects include a new fitness center, a bigger runway, an emergency runway and a new dining facility.

Although Airmen constitute a majority of the base populace, 800 of the 1,300 people there, the Army provides the support function, giving Airmen everything they need to survive on a daily basis. Since Airmen don't have to worry about operating basic support functions - like the dining hall, base fire department, or facility maintenance - the focus on their various missions is razor sharp.

Although Airmen outnumber Soldiers, Army rules prevail. Airmen have to get used to not being allowed to roll up their sleeves, as well as having to wear their uniform at all times except during physical training. The Army also contracts out for services. Instead of Soldiers serving up biscuits and gravy, enployees from KBR Co., can be seen working in the dining facility, constructing buildings or cleaning restroom facilities.

Although seldom mentioned in the news, K-2 is becoming well known by military aircrews as the most hospitable and efficient airfield in the region. The base hosts countless heavy airlift and transport aircraft, and before an aircrew even touches down on the base's short, crumbling runway, an orchestra of people is already on-hand to welcome them.

Teams representing transient alert, command post and combat weather anticipate the needs of all visitors and aircraft. When an aircraft taxies to a stop, forklifts are standing by to off-load cargo and fuel trucks are close behind, waiting for their cue. Passengers are greeted by a base representative before they even step off the plane and then ushered to a bus, parked just a few feet from the aircraft.

Working 24-hour operations, the weather crew provides two day forecasts to the base's rescue units and on-the-spot forecasts to transient crews. The aircrews never have to walk more than a few steps to find the support they need. After receiving their weather briefing, the command post staff is on-hand with a quick-reaction checklist.

The bulk of the C-130H missions from K-2 move people and cargo directly to locations involved with Operation Enduring Freedom. The 416th Air Expeditionary Group averages 200 passengers and 100 tons of cargo per day from its remote location.

In June 2005 Uzbek President Islam Karimov curtailed US operations at K-2 in retaliation against American criticism of the shooting of hundreds of demonstrators in Andijan in May 2005. The Uzbek government prohibited nighttime operations, and placed limits on C-17 and other heavy transport aircraft. In response, the US shifted some operations from K-2, moving search-and-rescue planes to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and re-routing heavy cargo flights through Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbeks had complained that the heavy cargo aircraft were damaging the airfield's runway, and that the Americans had been unable to repair the damage.

Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase Environment

This is a bare bones, rustic site, as is often the case with contingency operations. The most common complaint was of a bad smell coming from a trench near the tent city. Others talked about "black goo" while digging or mentioned high levels of disease, like TB.

At any new site, an occupational and environmental baseline (EBS) survey is a required part of the health risk assessment process. In Nov 01, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe (USACHPPM-EUR) did an EBS. They found widespread jet fuel plumes, usually 1-3 meters under ground, most likely from a leaking Soviet-era underground fuel distribution system. This was the cause of the odor and pooling associated with digging.

They also found smaller, localized areas of surface dirt contaminated with asbestos and low-level radioactive processed uranium, both from the destruction of Soviet missiles several years ago.

Finally, the amount of dust and other particles in the air was often high, varying with the season and weather, e.g., dust storms.

Although the odor is unpleasant, the fuel vapor level found in the area of the trench is well below the Minimal Risk Level developed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Noses are sensitive and can sometimes detect chemicals at low levels that are not harmful to health.

Asbestos was present. However, it was not detected in the air and would not be inhaled, so any health risk from asbestos is very small. The level of radioactivity found cannot get through the skin, so the only health risk would be from breathing radioactive dust in the air or by living or working directly over the most radioactive areas. Neither of these situations was detected at K-2.

Dust is an irritant that bothers some people more than others. Symptoms such as cough, sneezing, sinus congestion, sinus drainage ("drip"), and sore throat are common during peak periods. People with asthma or allergies may have felt worse or needed more medicine than usual. These effects usually go away quickly after the local weather improves and permanent health effects are uncommon.

Health effects from short-term, low-dose exposures found at K-2 are unlikely. However, a few scientists and clinicians feel that low doses of one or more environmental agents may cause a wide variety of symptoms in certain sensitive people. Unfortunately, there is conflicting evidence and not everyone agrees. Reported symptoms might include depression, anxiety, or unexplained physical symptoms such as fatigue, subjective memory and concentration problems, chronic pain, or an irritable bowel. Such symptoms can appear for many reasons and most commonly occur in people without any known exposure to environmental contaminants. This makes it hard for an individual, or their doctor, to tell if the symptoms are due to any specific K-2 exposure. Any new information about K-2 exposures or associated health effects will be sent to health care providers and service members right away.

The air base leadership took rapid protective action in Nov 01. They filled the trench with clean soil to create a cap to hold the vapors underground. They also covered the areas of radioactive soil and asbestos with a thick layer of clean dirt to keep people safe. These areas remain off-limits to everyday activity, and both permission and protective equipment are required before any digging can occur. Air monitoring and other follow-up sampling are ongoing to ensure that conditions do not change and that these measures remain effective.

News media in Jun 02 reported that trace amounts of nerve and blister agents were detected in some areas of the K-2 complex. However, testing of new samples using specialized testing equipment was completely negative for chemical warfare agents. The initial tests were using less specific equipment apparently gave false positive results most likely due to contaminants from recent painting and other refurbishing activities. Monitoring continues at K-2 to ensure service members remain protected and to provide early detection and reporting if conditions change.

Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase History

In late 1979 Soviet Air Force deployed Tu-16 bomber aircraft from Orsha to the airfield of Khanabad, at Karshi 125 miles north of the Afghan border. Other bombers were also deployed from the Ukrainian Priluki strategic aviation air base to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. Soviet long-range bomber aircraft were first used in combat over Afghanistan on 10 June 1981, attacking the lazurite mines of Akhmad Shakh Masud. The next time long-range aviation bombers were used was during large-scale operations over PanjShir in 1984. Heavy bombers flying from Khanabad and Mary flew a single mission in the morning, following which targets were covered by thick clouds of dust from the bomb explosions. The overall effectiveness of these strikes turned out to be relatively low.

A treaty signed in March 1994 by Russia and Uzbekistan defines the terms of Russian assistance in training, allocation of air fields, communications, and information on air space and air defense installations. In 1995 almost all personnel in Uzbekistan's air force were ethnic Russians. The Chirchiq Fighter Bomber Regiment, taken over in the initial phase of nationalization of former Soviet installations, has since been scaled down by eliminating older aircraft, with the goal of reaching a force of 100 fixed-wing aircraft and thirty-two armed helicopters. According to the Soviet structure still in place, separate air and air defense forces operate in support of ground forces; air force doctrine conforms with Soviet doctrine. Some thirteen air bases are active.

In 1994 Uzbekistan's inventory of aircraft was still in the process of reduction to meet treaty requirements. At that stage, the air force was reported to have two types of interceptor jet, twenty of the outmoded MiG-21 and thirty of the more sophisticated MiG-29. For close air support, forty MiG-27s (foundation of the Chirchiq regiment) and ten Su-17Ms were operational. Twenty An-2 light transport planes, six An-12BP transports, and ten An-26 transports made up the air force's transport fleet. Training aircraft included twenty L-39C advanced trainers and an unknown number of Yak-52 basic trainers. Six Mi-8P/T transport helicopters were available. The air defense system consisted of twenty operational Nudelman 9K31 low-altitude surface-to-air missiles, which in 1994 were controlled by two Russian air defense regiments deployed along the Afghan border.

In 1993 Uzbekistan had nine civilian airports, of which four were large enough to land international passenger jets. Tashkent's Yuzhnyy Airport, the largest in the country, now serves as a major air link for the other former republics of the Soviet Union with South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as a major hub linking Central Asia with Western Europe and the United States. The addition of Tashkent to the flight routes of Germany's national airline, Lufthansa, greatly increased this role, and Uzbekistan's own airline, Uzbekistan Airways, flies from Tashkent and Samarqand to major cities in Western Europe and the Middle East. In 1994 its fleet included about 400 former Soviet aircraft, including the Yakovlev 40, Antonov 24, Tupolev 154, Ilyushin 62, 76, and 86, and two French Airbus A310-200s.

By the late 1990s Uzbekistan reportedly had two dozen Su-24/MR aircraft based at Khanabad.

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