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U.S. Base in Kyrgyzstan Provides Launching Point into Afghanistan

In a report from News 21 Project, a collaboration of five journalism schools, two students look at life on a remote U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, where soldiers await deployment to operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan. Our report comes from the News 21 Project, a collaboration of journalism schools at five universities. This story was produced by two students at the University of California, Berkeley, Katya Kumkova-Wolpert and Patrick Farrell.

    KATYA KUMKOVA-WOLPERT, News 21 Project: This is Kyrgyzstan; not Kurdistan, the Iraqi province; not Kazakhstan, the oil-rich country to the north. Kyrgyzstan, a small and obscure former republic of the Soviet Union. It's been independent since the early '90s.

    The global war on terror has taken U.S. troops to places most Americans have never heard of, let alone been to. It's also taken reporters far from home, including me, though in my case it's hard to say where home is. I was born in the Soviet Union and moved to the U.S. when I was a kid.

    And that's Patrick, my partner. He grew up in Nebraska. He's as far from home as the rest of the people on this base.

    It's called the Manas Air Base. Everything and everyone that the U.S. sends to Afghanistan comes through here. Last year, planes that took off from Manas carried 59,000 tons of gear and 60 million pounds of fuel. They also brought over 100,000 troops to and from the war, for what everyone here calls "down range."

  • SOLDIER:

    Were you down range?

    PATRICK FARRELL, News 21 Project: Yes, I was in Bagram in Afghanistan.

  • SOLDIER:

    Yes, how was it?

  • PATRICK FARRELL:

    It's a beautiful country.

  • SOLDIER:

    Do you say that without irony?

  • PATRICK FARRELL:

    Yes, it's — I don't even know if you consider it a third-world country. I've been to Haiti, and I think Bagram was actually — Afghanistan was worse.

  • KATYA KUMKOVA-WOLPERT:

    Manas has been here since the war in Afghanistan started. Just three months after 9/11, U.S. forces pitched a few tents at an old airport outside Bishkek, Kyrgyz capital. Their job: to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

    Five years later, the base is still here, but the airmen could pick up and leave in a matter of weeks. Manas is a perfect example of the Pentagon's new strategy of projecting American power. As an expeditionary base, it's here for the war in Afghanistan. But if the war changes or if local politics shift, it could go somewhere else.

  • COL. JOEL REESE, Base Commander:

    Could we do it without Manas? Well, we'd find a way, certainly. If it becomes necessary, we will find a way.

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