Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Is Kyrgyzstan base closure a big deal?

I pose this question because I really want to know...why is Kyrgyzstan's decision to close our airbase there such a big deal? The Reuters article describes the airlift hub as "vital for supplying U.S.-led troops fighting in Afghanistan". Despite 27 years in the Air Force, I'm not an expert on such matters, so maybe that's why I can't figure out what's so "vital" about the airbase.

Take a look at the map (click it if you need a larger version). Kyrgyzstan is land-locked and isn't significantly closer to Afghanistan than any US or allied airbase in Europe or the Middle East from where supplies and troops headed for Afghanistan might originate. OK, so it makes sense to have a nearby staging area outside the theater of operations IF the theater of operations is so hot you don't dare risk staging troops and equipment within it, say at Bagram Air Base. While Afghanistan is far from peachy, I'd say the Kyrgyzstan airbase is more convenient than vital. I just don't see why troops and equipment can't be flown directly into Afghanistan rather than first stopping in Kyrgyzstan.

I suspect what this is really about is the symbolism of a regional ally, an alliance which Russia has chafed at from the start. Russia paid Kyrgyzstan a paltry $2 billion and in return the Kyrgyz government is giving us the boot. The symbolism was important to the US as a display of broad consensus in the war on terror, but a constant rock in Russia's shoe.

Like I said...I'm not an expert on this stuff, so if anyone reading this has other ideas, I'd love to hear them.


Mr. Bingley said...

I'm guessing it's used a lot as a staging area for stuff from Diego Garcia?

Eric said...

It almost certainly is, as well as stuff from Ramstein in Germany, Qatar in the Persian Gulf, etc.

So if Kyrgyzstan is gone, just fly it direct into Afghanistan, no? No real difference in flight times or distance.

Eric said...

Actually, just looked on Google Earth, and it's 500 miles further from Diego to Kyrgyzstan than to Afghanistan.

From about anywhere in Europe it's pretty much equidistant, and from the Persian Gulf it's slightly further to Kyrgyzstan.

jrhines said...

Kyrgyzstan does not have significant jihadi problem. Things can be stored there without a brigade to defend it.

Things stored in Afghanistan (1) have to be defended and (2) might get destroyed even though defended and (3) if we ever have to evacuate Afghanistan in a hurry, has to be destroyed before we leave.

Think about the situation of our troops in Afghanistan if Pakistan was taken over by Taliban so there is no land route for supplies (or evacuation). The base in Kyrgyzstan was a safe-haven against that day.

Eric said...

Thanks, JR...that makes a certain amount of sense.

Rick007 said...

Get with the country of Georgia and set up a base there.

Eric said...

Oh, geez, Rick...if our presence in Kyrgyzstan pissed off the Russians, getting basing rights in Georgia would have them rolling through the Fulda Gap.

Hey...not a bad idea!

Mark said...

I wonder if we could defend a base in Georgia with some 1980s vintage Pershing missiles.

Just a thought on Ronald Reagan's birthday.