BISHKEK (TCA) – At the invitation of the management of the Transit Center at Manas located at Bishkek’s Manas airport, on April 26 a delegation of Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Bishkek, District 2430, visited the facilities and were briefed by the Director of the Center, Colonel James Jacobson.
The Transit Center is the current name of a former military air base established in December 2001, following the tragic events of September 11 in the US and the beginning of international Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. At that time a military base was opened in Kyrgyzstan and the 376th Expeditionary Air Wing was put in charge here. This was the time when the Afghan war took off and a tremendous military effort started developing involving troops and weapons from more than 20 countries.
The base, originally named after the New York fire fighter chief Peter Ganci that lost his life in the rescue attempt of the victims of the twin towers, has since changed its role and name, expanding into an efficient organization whose scope now is more logistical rather than military.
The briefings of civilian visitors and PR activities have become more frequent recently. Prior to the Rotary visit, in the recent past a Kyrgyz parliamentarian delegation was shown the center and briefed on aerial refuelling that certainly represents the most important and near military action that the base is conducting. Later the doors were open to an environmental group amidst assumptions that American aircraft jettison fuel over inhabited areas or agricultural crops. This assumption was categorically excluded by Colonel Jacobson due to a clear protocol of action, which only justifies such actions by emergency cases where human lives are at risk and also in cases when decisions are made in consultation with the Kyrgyz air navigation, US Embassy and Kyrgyz authorities. No one is prepared to throw away precious fuel that costs every month millions of dollars.
Today the Transit Center is mostly involved in refuelling aircraft flying over Afghan territory and transporting personnel to and from Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of soldiers are moved every month to and from Afghanistan and find in the Center the right place for rest before returning home or proceeding for the military mission. At the Transit Center the compound has a fully equipped area for hosting large numbers of military tents used as dormitories for thousands of soldiers. Here all facilities are available to provide rest, personal hygiene and fitness in a sort of a must do program that is accompanied by good food and international communication via Internet and mobile phones.
In the middle of political debates if the Transit Center should remain in Manas after 2014, life and work here is going on as usual, with the utmost attention to details, discipline and jobs provided to more than 700 local people with direct expenditures in the first three months of 2012 exceeding US $80 million. All this without counting the money paid for fuel acquired from the Kyrgyz-Russian joint venture for an additional 50 million dollars. Looking to the figure there is no doubt that the Kyrgyz pragmatism, always very sensible to its economic interest, will certainly carefully consider any future decision.
Besides getting acquainted with the internal organization of the Center, the Rotarians were also briefed about the social and humanitarian activity of the Transit Center that is spending money, time and efforts on developing a close cooperation with the local community both in supporting local schools and cultural exchange. So far no project has been conducted in cooperation with Rotary Bishkek but this first official visit augurs well for future cooperation since to expand their impact on the local community it will be preferable if projects organized and financed by the Transit Center are supported and spread by local NGOs and in this aspect Rotary Bishkek is certainly among the best in terms of transparency and professionalism.