Russia-Backed Expulsion of U.S. from Kyrgyz Base Moves Critical Support Point to Romania

Vladimir Putin has won the expulsion of U.S. forces from a key air base in Kyrgyzstan, a troop and supply hub for the coalition in Afghanistan since after 9/11.

While the U.S. is leaving Manas, the Russian air base 20 miles away at Kant inked a 15-year extension agreement last year.

Russia first tried to get the U.S. off the base when the Kyrgyz parliament in 2009 said that the Americans' lease shouldn't be renewed. The Kremlin tried to coax the Kyrgyz government against an extension for the U.S. by offering a $2.15 billion aid package, but Washington managed to negotiate a new lease that included a rent hike of $43 million a year.

This evening, the Pentagon said it 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 current agreement between the U.S. and Kyrgyz governments on hosting the TCM expires in July 2014. The U.S. appreciates the support provided by the Kyrgyz people to U.S. forces and coalition efforts to counter the threat of terrorism and to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan and the region and respects the decision of the Government of Kyrgyzstan to end hosting the TCM after more than 12 years," the Defense Department said in a statement.

"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 statement continued. "The U.S. intends to continue supporting Kyrgyzstan's democratic and economic development, and we look forward to further developing our bilateral relationship in the years ahead."

In June, the Kyrgyz parliament voted 91-5 to expel the Americans from the base, followed by a decree from President Almazbek Atambayev.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Romania's Minister of Defense Mircea Dusa today at the Pentagon to finalize a new agreement for Romania to support logistics into and out of Afghanistan, including both personnel and cargo movement.

"Secretary Hagel praised this agreement, which is particularly important as the U.S. prepares to wind down transit center operations at Manas, Kyrgystan next year. Secretary Hagel highlighted this agreement as a further testament to Romania's steadfast commitment to the ISAF mission and its commitment to regional and international security," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

Romania and Afghanistan are more than 2,300 miles apart, while the distance from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Kabul is just 638 miles.

"Secretary Hagel also thanked Romania for its decision to host the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, emphasizing that the agreement reaffirms and strengthens the collective defense upon which NATO was founded. This system represents an important component of the larger European Phased Adaptive Approach and is expected to be operational in 2015. At Secretary Hagel's direction, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James N. Miller will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Aegis Ashore system at Deveselu later this month," Little continued.

"Secretary Hagel further praised Romania's decision to purchase 12 F-16 aircraft from Portugal. He added that this significant investment in air superiority capabilities will open the door for greater regional collaboration and will be valuable to future NATO and coalition operations. Secretary Hagel reaffirmed that Romania is one of the United States' staunchest allies. The two leaders also agreed to look for ways to expand our strong military cooperation as well as to support Romania's efforts to become a leader in the region and in NATO."

In September, Atambayev prefaced the U.S. expulsion with a declaration at a NATO meeting that Manas would get rid of all military flights, but suggested it would coincide with the withdrawal of coalition forces at the end of 2014.

"As the president of Kyrgyzstan, I declare that there will be no military component at Manas international airport. Manas airport will be a civil hub, which will provide services for transportation. It will be a purely civilian airport," said Atambayev.

Meanwhile, Russia has begun plans to remodel its air base, overhauling the runways to be able to receive strategic bombers.