Manas International Airport
Ganci Air Base
On 28 November 2001 CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy R. Franks stated that additional attack aircraft from the United States and France [and possibly other states] would be sent to Central Asia in early December. Kyrgyzstan was reportedly the most likely base for most of the aircraft as the country was the only one in the region to offer coalition forces unrestricted overflight rights for aircraft flying combat, humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions. The country reportedly leased Manas International Airport for a period of a year to the coalition.
In late December 2001, engineers arrived at Bishkek’s Manas international airport, to open the airfield for American use. Accommodation was initially provided to some 200 American and French servicemen in a tent camp at Manas. Their number may reach 3,000 men eventually. Initially plans called for about two dozen attack aircraft at Manas, including F-15E’s, FA-18’s and perhaps French and Danish jets. By early 2002, analysis of the taxiways, the 13,000-foot runway and the fuel system suggested a smaller deployment. As of early-January 2002 the ultimate deployment had not been decided, but cargo and tanker aircraft were expected to begin arriving by mid-January.
The movement of aircraft would include F-15E fighter-bombers and A-10 attack jets, deployed for the first time in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The squadron of 24 fighter aircraft in Kyrgyzstan would consist of six F-15E’s, six F-18’s, and six other jets — either A-10’s or F-16’s — and six French fighters. France reportedly requested permission to base six Mirage-2000 multi-purpose fighter bombers, two C-130 tanker aircraft and 200 technicians in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
As of mid-February 2002, plans called for stationing six Marine F/A-18s and six French Mirage 2000s, along with five KC-135 tankers and four C-130 transports — all expected to arrive in March. By that time Manas was already serving as a refueling hub for C-17 transports coming from Afghanistan. The 350 military personnel were expected to grow to 2,000 by March, and to more than 3,000 by June 2002.
Kyrgyzstan permitted the air forces of Canada, France and the United States to use its territory for the duration of the anti- terrorist campaign. Kyrgyzstan agreed in early January 2002 for eight French military airplanes — six Mirage fighter jets and two supply planes taking part in operations in Afghanistan to be based at Manas. The Kyrgyz authorities expect eventually a total of 40 to 50 military airplanes from the international coalition to be based at Manas. Of the coalition aircraft, 30 will be military transport planes. The field at Manas would be used to transfer cargo from large cargo planes to smaller planes capable of landing at Afghan airfields. The six Mirage 2000 aircraft arrived in Manas around 01 March 2002. The six Marine FA-18D Hornet fighter aircraft and their crews arrived at Manas around 24 April 2002.
As of June 2002, about 1,000 American troops and an equal number of coalition forces are stationed at Ganci to support fighter, tanker and cargo operations into Afghanistan. The United States, Australia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Spain all have forces at Ganci.
As of July 2002, the bulk of the 1,900 troops ? about half of them American ? are from their national air forces. The U.S. Marines operate the air-traffic control tower, and a small contingent of U.S. Army troops run the power-production facility. The leadership is multinational. The vice commander is French, and the operations group commander is Australian.
A detachment of six French Air Force Mirage 2000D fighters returned to France on 4 October after participating with French carrier-based aircraft in support of the US-led Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’. French fighters conducted more than 10% of sorties over Afghanistan. The six Mirage 2000Ds had been stationed at Ganci Air Base, Manas, Kyrgyzstan, along with two C-135FR tanker aircraft.
On 1 October 2002 a tri-national detachment of 18 Danish, Netherlands and Norwegian F-16AM fighters and one Netherlands KDC-10 tanker, took the place of the Mirages. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) leads the 440-strong unit known as the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) detachment. It is tasked to provide day and night air support to US and coalition forces inside Afghanistan as part of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’. Furthermore, it can be called on to provide air support to International Security Assistance Force troops in and around Kabul. The unit is integrated within the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing of the US Air Force.
On December 16, 2002, a new recreational facility at Ganci Air Base was dedicated, marking the one-year anniversary of a coalition presence in the Kyrgyz Republic. The newly constructed Coalition Center houses a movie theater and a fitness center
Manas, the international airport at Bishkek (named after the mythical national hero), was modernized in 1988 to make it the most modern commercial airport in Central Asia. A second international facility is located at Osh, and about twenty-five usable local fields supplement civil air service. Manas International Airport has about five commercial flights per day.
Manas has a 13,800-foot long runway, built for Soviet bombers. There is room for four C-17 or C-5 cargo planes to park along the taxiway. The base lies about 1,500 kilometers from Kandahar, a three-hour flight.
The facility covers 37 acres. It is fenced off by a concrete wall at the top of which coiled razor wire has been placed. Four watchtowers overlook the facility which holds roughly 300 tents, a fitness room, a chapel, a post office, a recreation room as well as a $5 million, 60-bed military hospital which opened in April 2002, and is manned by South Korean troops.
Fuel for the American and French fighter jets flying out of Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan is provided by a firm owned by President Askar Akayev’s son-in-law.
The facility was unofficially renamed Ganci Air Base, after Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., chief of the New York City Fire Department who gave his life Sept. 11 during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Although the U.S. Air Force is renowned for providing for the comfort of its troops, American airmen here say Ganci is setting a new standard for comfortable deployments downrange. Compared to the dusty and desertlike temperatures at the tent city at Karshi-Khanabad ? or K-2, as troops call it ? in neighboring Uzbekistan, Ganci is almost like a resort. Troop accommodations in Afghanistan “aren’t fit for a dog,” one U.S. Marine officer said.
The Air Force’s 376th Air Expeditionary Wing was been tasked with operating the facility which also houses troops from South Korea, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Norway and Spain. The 786th Security Forces Squadron is part of the 86th Contingency Response Group from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and its mission is to ensure the safety of coalition forces setting up the Manas airfield. As of June 2002, the 822nd Security Forces out of Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, GA, was also deployed at Manas.
According to a June 8th, 2004 Reuters report, the tents at Manas were being replaced by more permanent structures at a cost of $60 million. At that time, it was estimated that there were about 2,000 American and European troops based at Manas.
As of late-December 2004, the facilities at Manas were reportedly equipped with 366 ash heaters, 395 window air conditioning units and 59 international heaters and used to keep personnel stationed there warm and protected from the winter cold.