US Air Force base in pro-Moscow Kyrgyzstan closing

A U.S. Air Force base in Kyrgyzstan is packing up for closure after more than 12 years of flying troops and cargo in and out of Afghanistan, as Moscow boosts its military clout in the strategic region.

The Manas Transit Center in the ex-Soviet nation’s main civilian airport has been in operation since the end of 2001, serving the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom.

As Kyrgyzstan seeks closer political ties and economic aid from its ex-Soviet overlord Russia, the national parliament last June gave Washington until July 2014 to close its base.

The logistics hub, employing some 1,200 servicemen, was engaged in aerial refueling, personnel and cargo airlift, as well in humanitarian programs with Kyrgyzstan.

“As of February 28, those four main missions had been completed, and now our main focus is on orderly and clean transfer of the transit center back to the government of Kyrgyzstan,” said Colonel John Millard, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and Manas base head.

“We will have this installation and all U.S. personnel moved no later than July 10,” he told visiting media on Thursday.

During more than 12 years of operations, the Manas base near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek handled more than 33,000 refueling missions, moved more than 5.3 million servicemen in and out of Afghanistan and served 42,000 cargo missions, Millard said.

Personnel and cargo airlift missions have now been moved to Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu near the Black Sea port of Constanta in Romania, known as “Transit Center M.K.”