Panetta Cites Value of Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyr­gyzs­tan, March 13, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta arrived here today on his first offi­cial vis­it to Kyr­gyzs­tan, which is home to a tran­sit cen­ter for all U.S. troops enter­ing or leav­ing Afghanistan.

The Tran­sit Cen­ter at Man­as, near Kyrgyzstan’s cap­i­tal of Bishkek, is crit­i­cal to the north­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work that fun­nels U.S. forces and equip­ment into Afghanistan, Panet­ta said.

That net­work has been “extreme­ly impor­tant in recent months, since our [ground tran­sit routes] have closed in Pak­istan,” the sec­re­tary added.

Dur­ing his vis­it, Panet­ta is sched­uled to meet with Kyr­gyz Pres­i­dent Almazbek Atam­byev and Defense Min­is­ter Taalay­beck Omu­raliev. The sec­re­tary also will vis­it U.S. troops at the tran­sit cen­ter.

Panet­ta said he will thank the Kyr­gyz lead­ers for their coop­er­a­tion in allow­ing the Unit­ed States to use the tran­sit cen­ter and to ensure the rela­tion­ship can con­tin­ue into the future.

Offi­cials trav­el­ing with Panet­ta said the Man­as cen­ter has been the only air facil­i­ty north of Afghanistan avail­able to U.S. forces since 2001. A pre­vi­ous Kyr­gyz admin­is­tra­tion threat­ened to oust the Amer­i­cans in 2009, which led to some “pret­ty ardu­ous nego­ti­a­tions” and a sharp increase in the amount the U.S. gov­ern­ment pays for use of the facil­i­ty, an offi­cial said. Before 2009, the pay­ment was $17.4 mil­lion per year; it is now $60 mil­lion annu­al­ly.

A senior defense offi­cial said that arrange­ment is in place through July 2014, and that the sec­re­tary will not nego­ti­ate any addi­tion­al use of the facil­i­ty on this trip. Rather, the offi­cial added, the vis­it is intend­ed to under­score to the Kyr­gyz gov­ern­ment and to Atam­byev, who was inau­gu­rat­ed in Decem­ber, that the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment views its rela­tion­ship with Kyr­gyzs­tan as cen­tral to Cen­tral Asian region­al secu­ri­ty.

In 2011, defense offi­cials said, oper­a­tions at the Tran­sit Cen­ter at Man­as includ­ed 4,800 air refu­el­ing sor­ties trans­fer­ring 300 mil­lion pounds of fuel. The cen­ter also sup­port­ed 3,500 aeromed­ical evac­u­a­tions and man­aged a total flow of 580,000 air pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing into or out of Afghanistan.

Deploy­ing troops fly into Man­as on com­mer­cial air­craft, then trans­fer to U.S. mil­i­tary “gray tail” planes for the final leg of their trip to Afghanistan, offi­cials said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)