The Pentagon has begun transitioning its Afghanistan air logistics base to Romania and plans to complete the shift from Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan by July 2014 when its contract ends.
The announcement of the move to a new air hub in eastern Romania
at forward operating site Mihail Kogalniceanu followed a visit to
the Pentagon from Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa on
The site - on the Black Sea whereas the Kyrgyz site was landlocked - has been used by the US since 1999. A 2005 agreement allowed the US to access several Romanian bases for training, storage, and deployments, Reuters reported.
In June, the Kyrgyz Parliament passed a bill that ended the US lease of Manas Transit Center near the country's capital Bishkek.
The US rented the base near Bishkek for more than a decade as part of logistics support for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, in order to refuel airlift transports carrying cargo and troops.
In 2009, Kyrgyzstan's then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev planned to shut down the transportation hub, but instead rebranded it as a transit center in order to allow it to continue operations. This U-turn came after Washington agreed to triple its lease payment to about $60 million a year following Russian promises of $2 billion in loans to the Kyrgyz government.
Bakiev was then ousted in a
public uprising, and after a period of turmoil was replaced by
newly elected President Almazbek Atambayev. After assuming
Kyrgyzstan’s highest office in 2011, he announced that Bishkek
does not plan to renew the lease after it expires in July
The Pentagon said in a statement that "the US appreciates the support provided by the Kyrgyz people" to US forces operating in Afghanistan and "respects the decision of the government" to terminate the lease.
The US base has been at the center of several scandals since its opening in 2001, including the fatal shooting of a local man by an American guard at a base checkpoint. The killing was not prosecuted by Kyrgyzstan, as US Military personnel have legal immunity in the country. Critics also voiced concerns over environmental damage and potential threats from US enemies against the stronghold.
In addition, Bishkek took issue with the US paying hundreds of millions of dollars to secretive contractors for fuel supplies. Following the revolt in 2010, the new government accused two contractors - Mina Corp and Red Star Enterprises - of making a deal with the former leader’s son to ensure access to Manas. The agreement with the companies was eventually scuttled upon further scrutiny from Washington.
The US and Romania previously agreed on the construction of a land-based Aegis missile defense system aimed at shielding against weapons fired from Iran. Work on the system is set to begin later this month.