Manas International Airport
Ganci Air Base / Manas Air Base
The United States has started the withdrawal from an airbase in Kyrgyzstan that serves as the main transit hub for NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said in a statement on 18 October 2013. In 2011, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev announced plans to shut the base down by 2014, when the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is to be pulled out of Afghanistan. He signed a bill ordering the closure of the base into law in June 2013. It stipulates that US forces must abandon the base at Manas International Airport, near the capital Bishkek, by July 2014.
“The Department of Defense has begun the process of relocating from the Transit Center at Manas International Airport (TCM) and plans to complete the transfer of areas and facilities to the Government of Kyrgyzstan by July 2014," the statement read. “Working closely with Kyrgyzstan over the next nine months, the U.S. will manage the TCM relocation effort while continuing to support the International Security Assistance Force mission," the Department of Defense said. Pentagon spokesman George Little told the media that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa agreed during their meeting on Friday that US military cargo and personnel going to and from Afghanistan by air will be hauled via Romania after the closure of Manas.
On 20 June 2013, the parliament of Kyrgyzstan overwhelmingly approved a bill with a vote of 94-5 that ordered the closure of the US facility at Manas Air Base by July 2014. Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary opposition, however, claimed that the bill is premature because the government had failed to explain how it would compensate for the loss of $60 million the country receives annually from the United States to operate the base.
Manas, the international airport at Bishkek (named after the mythical national hero), was modernized in 1988 to make it the most modern commercial airport in Central Asia. A second international facility was located at Osh, and about 25 usable local fields supplement civil air service. Manas International Airport had about 5 commercial flights per day.
Manas has a 13,800-foot long runway, built for Soviet bombers. There was room for 4 C-17 or C-5 cargo planes to park along the taxiway. The base lies about 1,500 kilometers from Kandahar, Afghanistan, a 3-hour flight.
In the early 1990s, available air transport facilities were inadequate. The national airline was formed from a share of the aircraft and personnel allocated from the Soviet airline Aeroflot. Manas, the international airport at Bishkek (named after the mythical national hero), was modernized in 1988 to make it the most modern commercial airport in Central Asia. A second international facility is located at Osh, and about twenty-five usable local fields supplement air service. Manas Airport originally offered flights to fifty cities in the CIS, including regular service to Moscow and Tashkent, and charter flights to China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. However, that facility has been almost unused since 1991. The shortage of jet fuel has forced Kyrgyzstan to rely almost completely on the Almaty international airport, four hours by road from Bishkek, for international connections, and the availability of air transport greatly decreased in the early 1990s. The loss of air services has exacerbated the country's tendency toward a north-south split.
The virtual closure of Manas Airport at Bishkek makes Kazakstan's capital, Almaty, the principal point of entry to Kyrgyzstan. The northwestern city of Talas receives nearly all of its services through the city of Dzhambyl, across the border in Kazakstan. Although Kazakstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev has cooperated in economic agreements, in May 1993 Kyrgyzstan's introduction of the som caused Nazarbayev to close his country's border with Kyrgyzstan to avoid a flood of worthless Kyrgyzstani rubles.
In the early 2000s, international funding upgraded the main airport, Manas, at Bishkek and a smaller facility at Osh. In 2006 Manas was the only one of Kyrgyzstan's 37 airports with a runway longer than 3,000 meters and the only airport supporting international flights. Smaller airports provide connections among domestic destinations.
In 2001 Kyrgyzstan offered the United States an air base at Manas Airport in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Manas Airbase subsequently became an important staging ground for the coalition effort in Afghanistan, both those involved with OEF and subsequently the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The US facility covered 37 acres. It was fenced off by a concrete wall at the top of which coiled razor wire has been placed. Four watchtowers overlooked the facility, which held roughly 300 tents, a fitness room, a chapel, a post office, a recreation room as well as a $5 million, 60-bed military hospital that opened in April 2002, and is manned by South Korean troops.
Fuel for the American and French fighter jets flying out of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan was initially provided by a firm owned by President Askar Akayev's son-in-law.
The facility was unofficially renamed Ganci Air Base, after Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr, chief of the New York City Fire Department who gave his life during the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Although the US Air Force was renowned for providing for the comfort of its troops, American airmen said Ganci was setting a new standard for comfortable deployments downrange. Compared to the dusty and desertlike temperatures at the tent city at Karshi-Khanabad, also known as K-2, in neighboring Uzbekistan, Ganci was almost like a resort.
The Air Force's 376th Air Expeditionary Wing was been tasked with operating the facility, which also houses troops from South Korea, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Norway and Spain. The 786th Security Forces Squadron was part of the 86th Contingency Response Group from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and its mission was to ensure the safety of coalition forces setting up the Manas airfield. As of June 2002, the 822nd Security Forces out of Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, were also deployed at Manas.
According to an 08 June 2004 Reuters report, the tents at Manas were being replaced by more permanent structures at a cost of $60 million. At that time, it was estimated that there were about 2,000 American and European troops based at Manas.
On December 6, 2006, a security forces airman at Manas Coalition Airbase shot and killed a Kyrgyz fuel truck driver delivering fuel to the base. This incident raised concerns among the Kyrgyz people and government over the status of coalition forces, specifically U.S., as to how to deal with serious incidents. Following the shooting, the U.S. and Kyrgyz worked on two parallel investigations. The Kyrgyz investigation was completed in March 2007 and found the airman guilty of premeditated murder. DoD has acknowledged the incident as unfortunate, provided a grace payment to the widow in the amount of 55,000 USD and promised to convey the results of the U.S. investigation when it was concluded. In September 2008, AFOSI completed its investigation and provided the results to OSD in the form of an investigation report. Unfortunately, the report contained serious contradictions which could be perceived by the Kyrgyz to show that the U.S. was covering up the incident. CSAF then directed further review of the investigation.
The USAF has been under pressure from the Kyrgyz government to provide compensation for perceived environmental damage caused by fuel dumping by Air Force planes over their territory. The U.S. has tried to convince the Kyrgyz that fuel dumping causes little, if any, damage to the environment and that the U.S. follows not only internationally approved methods of fuel dumping, but Kyrgyz standards as well. Fuel dumping by USAF aircraft is only accomplished during in-flight emergencies where the plane and crew are in jeopardy.
Following months of discussion between Manas Air Base and Manas International Airport, by the end of 2008 Airport authorities supported a proposed $37 million infrastructure project to build three new parking aprons and a hot cargo pad for use by coalition aircraft at Manas Air Base. Though necessary, Airport support was not sufficient, and political approval from the Kyrgyz Government was required. The latter refused to take a decision on the project in the summer of 2008 due to pressure from Moscow, and the project remained as politically controversial as it was economically appealing. The Base was understandably anxious to break ground, but getting the Kyrgyz to yes on this proposal was not assured. For political reasons, the Kyrgyz would not support anything that was viewed as an expansion of the Base.
Following Kyrgyz President Bakiyev's 03 February 2009 announcement in Moscow that he had decided to close Manas Air Base, the Kyrgyz Government immediately sent to Parliament a draft law to nullify the 2001 Base agreement, along with
three bills for approving the Russian financial assistance package. In a lopsided vote February 19, Kyrgyzstan's
Parliament approved the law to nullify the 2001 U.S.-Kyrgyz Manas Air Base agreement. The law would next go to President Bakiyev for signature. Once signed, the law enters into force, and the MFA should send official notification of that to the Embassy. Both steps could happen quickly, or could be delayed for weeks. Under the terms of the 2001 agreement, either party can terminate the agreement with 180 days written notice. The 180 day period does not begin until the Embassy receives the formal diplomatic note invoking this clause of the agreement, a step which the President's Chief of Staff had previously characterized to the Ambassador as the signal to begin negotiations.
The Kyrgyz opposition leader who seemed to be the leader of a temporary "caretaker government" said 08 April 2010 that Manas Air Base will remain open to United States military forces. Roza Otunbaeva, whose claim to power followed the apparent ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev on April 6 in a day of violent upheaval, said US forces can continue to use the Manas air base to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Following the result of Kyrgyzstan's October 2011 Presidential elections, former Prime Minister and president-elect Almazbek Atambayev announced that he had informed the United States of his intention to have Manas Air Base close once the facility's lease expires in mid-2014. While Kyrgyzstan would honor the lease, Atambayev said he had no intention of extending it.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list