A KC-135 Stratotanker taxis Feb. 24 while members of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing salute at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The KC-135 departed Manas after the final refueling mission over Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards/Air Force)
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U.S. Transportation Command will be able to quickly withdraw all troops and equipment from Afghanistan at the end of the year, if that is the option chosen, the TRANSCOM commander said Thursday.
“We have options,” Air Force Gen. William Fraser told the House Armed Services Committee . “We have capacity and we have capability, and we developed all of this in order to respond to whatever the decision is.”
President Obama on Tuesday ordered the Pentagon to formally prepare for a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year because Afghan President Hamid Karzai is unlikely to sign a bilateral security agreement that would keep U.S. personnel in the country after the end of the year.
The withdrawal would come on the backs of Fraser’s command. The U.S. has worked with other nations in the region on agreements for transit out of Afghanistan, he said. In addition to air routes through the newly established Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, there are ground routes.
Fraser also said a new agreement with the government of Kuwait allows the U.S. Air Force and commercial aircraft to use intratheater airlift to move equipment out of Afghanistan to a yard in Kuwait, and then to move it by ship out of the region, much like after the U.S. drawdown in Iraq.
The main hub for U.S. mobility in and out of Afghanistan for the past 12 years is closing down. The Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, hosted its last refueling mission on Feb. 24.
Over the past 12.5 years, KC-135s flew 33,500 sorties, refueling more than 135,000 aircraft with more than 12.2 billion gallons of fuel for the Afghan operation, according to the Air Force.
“It’s pretty special to be able to say that we were able to fly on the last sortie out of Manas,” said Col. Mike Seiler, commander of the 376th Expeditionary Operations Group, according to a release. “When [I] think about it, we flew our last sortie just like we did our first one: fighter support, troops in contact. … I got chills rolling down the runway for the last time.”