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Final US Tanker Aircraft Departs Manas Base in Kyrgyzstan

The final US tanker aircraft supporting military operations in Afghanistan departed a Kyrgyzstan airbase Monday ahead of the closure of the facility later this year, a US army media agency reported.

An agreement with Kyrgyzstan that provides for the United States' transit center at the Manas airport, the country's largest, is slated to expire in July.

A picture of a line of troops saluting the final KC-135 aerial refueling tanker as it taxied to depart the base was posted online by the US Army's Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) website.

The air base opened at Manas, outside the capital Bishkek, three months after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 to support US-led coalition forces in the invasion of Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev said in 2011 that the Central Asian republic would not renew an agreement to extend the lease of the facility.

Manas has served both as a transit point for NATO soldiers and as a base for aircraft, including tankers used to resupply combat planes operating in Afghanistan.

According to official data, US tanker aircraft have flown more than 33,000 missions from Manas, refueling over 135,000 aircraft.

Transport planes are still ferrying soldiers to and from the base, as part of the phased drawdown of the NATO-led International Security Force in Afghanistan.

According to DVIDS, the first flight carrying troops to Afghanistan from a new US transit center in Romania, which is slated to replace Manas, departed earlier this month.

Russia also maintains a military airbase outside Bishkek, at Kant, which was established in 2003 under the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Russia and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement in September to extend Russia's lease of the facility to 2032.

The base currently hosts at least eight ground-attack planes and two combat transport helicopters.

[Source: Ria Novosti, Moscow, 25Feb14]

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