For many travelers to Kyrgyzstan, the first and last thing they see is a distant outpost of the Afghan war.
Parked before the passenger terminal at Kyrgyzstan’s main airport, outside Bishkek, a dozen or more dark gray jets marked “US Air Force” stand on any given day. They can make it to Afghanistan in a little over an hour. Most are KC-135 “Stratotankers” – gas stations in the sky – which fly round-the-clock refueling missions for NATO warplanes. The fatter, high-wing aircraft are C-17s used to ferry troops, as well as non-lethal equipment like mail and vehicle parts, in and out of Afghanistan.
To one side of Manas International Airport, beyond some barbed wire and a row of poplars, the base operating these planes hums quietly. The Manas Transit Center, as it’s officially been called since 2009, is as essential to Washington’s ongoing drawdown, officers say, as it was for maintaining the war effort for over a decade.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.