Pentagon shifting Afghan logistics hub to Romania from Kyrgyzstan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday it has begun shifting its Afghanistan air logistics hub to a base in Romania and will complete the transition from Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan by the time its contract for that facility expires in July 2014.

The announcement of the decision to shift the operations to Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu in eastern Romania followed a visit to the Pentagon on Friday by Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa.

U.S. forces have used the site, located on the Black Sea, since 1999. An agreement between the United States and Romania in 2005 allowed Washington to use several bases, including Mihail Kogalniceanu, for training, storing equipment and deployments.

Finding a new location for the Afghanistan air logistics center was important because the Kyrgyz government has asked the United States to leave Manas by July 2014 and U.S. forces are in the midst of shipping home equipment after 12 years of war.

The Pentagon said in a statement that “the U.S. appreciates the support provided by the Kyrgyz people” to U.S. and coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan and “respects the decision of the government” to stop hosting the facility after a dozen years.

U.S. and Romanian defense ties have been growing. They include the construction of a land-based Aegis missile defense system as part of President Barack Obama’s European ballistic missile defense program, which aims to protect against any weapons fired from Iran.

The Pentagon said Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller would attend a groundbreaking ceremony later this month for the construction of the Aegis site.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham