The U.S. air base near Kyrgyzstan’s capital was fully back in action on Thursday providing critical support to the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, with planes taking off and landing throughout the day.
The flights were halted April 7 after a day of violent protests that ousted the president and as a new provisional government worked to establish control. The upheaval also raised concerns about the future of the U.S. base, but the leader of the new government said on Tuesday that the lease would be extended.
The Manas base provides refuelling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops.
The full resumption of operations was announced on Thursday by the U.S. Embassy, which also confirmed that some embassy personnel and their families have been temporarily moved to the base as a security precaution.
The air base, located 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of the capital, Bishkek, is surrounded by a two-meter-high (seven-foot-high) iron fence and barrier made of large bundles of cotton wrapped with barbed wire.
The resumption of troops transports was good news for about 200 Polish soldiers finishing up their tour in Afghanistan. They had flown into the base Wednesday and were hoping to make it home in time for Sunday’s funeral of President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash.
“I hope I will be on time to say goodbye to my president,” said Polish soldier Piotr Dacko, who spent seven months in Afghanistan.
“Kaczynski’s death was a real shock,” he said. “You never know where you’ll find your death - in Afghanistan, from where I’m returning alive, or on board the presidential plane.”
Last month, 50,000 troops passed through Manas, which Senior Master Sgt. Mike Litsey said was a record.
A base spokesman said the disruption posed no danger to NATO operations against the Taliban.
“There’s contingency plans for everything, and there’s plans upon plans upon plans,” said Manas public affairs officer Rickardo Bodden. “That’s why when everything started we made sure that the transit centre in Manas is still supporting operations.”
Refuelling flights had resumed within two days, but troop transports were suspended for a week, other than a brief resumption on April 9 to allow a few hundred troops who were stranded at the base to fly back to the United States, according to the U.S. Central Command.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake was in Bishkek for talks with the new leadership, but he said Manas was not the main focus.
“But we do appreciate the statements the provisional government has made about their intention to continue to abide by the agreement that we have,” Mr. Blake told reporters.