Can US supply Afghanistan war without Kyrgyzstan's Manas airfield?
The US military may retain access to Manas airfield – a key transit hub for the Afghanistan war – despite the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan. But given the weakness of other supply routes, the loss would deal a major blow.
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Few other air bases in the region can handle the massive, long-haul planes that the former Soviet base of Manas can accommodate.Skip to next paragraph
“The closure of Manas would be a big blow. That is why Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal and others have invested a lot in trying to persuade Bakiyev the former president not to close the base,” says Ms. Antonenko.
Hasn’t the US developed alternative supply routes?
Yes, but only for supplies like food and clothing – not troops and ammo.
In early 2009, around the time when Bakiyev threatened to close Manas, the US military trumpeted the development of a new of supply routes collectively known as the “northern distribution network” (NDN).
Over the past year, the Pakistani military has pushed back the militant groups responsible for attacking NATO convoys. Attacks still occur, however, including one Wednesday in which the Taliban attached a bomb to a fuel tanker, killing a boy riding in a van behind.
Meanwhile, the NDN has begun to grow. As of November 2009, the NDN has moved 4,500 containers to Afghanistan, which represents 12.5 percent of containers that came through Pakistan in 2008, according to a December report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Could the new supply routes pick up traffic diverted from Manas?
No, says Antonenko. These are long, expensive overland routes quite distinct from the Kyrgyz airbase, and, as such, carry different things.
The NDN actually involves three spurs. One route goes from the Latvian capital of Riga, a major Baltic seaport, then overland through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. A second route goes from the Caucasus, starting in Georgia, moving through Azerbaijan, crossing the Caspian Sea by boat, then rolling across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The third option bypasses Uzbekistan by going from Riga to Kazakhstan, then through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
But the agreements with these nations do not include the right to move weaponry, nor would troops be moved through these corridors. Nor would the US necessarily trust these routes for sensitive materials: Night-vision devices, communications equipment, ammunition, and weapons are not sent through Pakistan, according to the CSIS report.
Nor do these train and truck networks provide a place to land and refuel airplanes.