The U.S. military will move hundreds of troops to Romania next year and set up a key logistical hub that will effectively replace the air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, a Pentagon official said Friday.
The Romanians have agreed to allow a small footprint of U.S. troops to use an existing airfield along the Black Sea coast. The Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in eastern Romania will serve as a major transit hub for the airlift effort to redeploy U.S. troops and cargo out of Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials say removing the roughly 51,000 troops currently deployed in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 will be a major logistical challenge.
The move comes after Kyrgyzstan ordered U.S. troops to leave Manas in 2009 after the U.S. balked at the Kyrgyz government’s demand to double the rent. The U.S. lease on the base expires in July 2014.
The deal with Romania was finalized at the Pentagon Friday during a meeting between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa. As a part of the agreement, the U.S. has agreed to give Romania permission to purchase 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons from Portugal. The U.S. will also provide F-16 training for Romanian pilots.
Romania has previously agreed to host an American-made anti-missile interceptor as part of the European missile defense system. That is expected to be operational by 2015.