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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Business as Usual at U.S. Base in Kyrgyzstan

ReutersU.S. Air Force servicemen passing a C-17 cargo plane at the Ganci Air Base this week. "We did not miss a single flight" during the unrest, Martin says.
GANCI AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan -- A violent revolution has been raging outside the gates, but this U.S. Air Force base deep in Central Asia is getting on with its job of delivering supplies to Afghanistan.

"It's been business as usual. ... We did not miss a single flight," Staff Sergeant Russ Martin said earlier this week, moments after a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft barreled along the runway behind him and took off.

Last week in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, about 30 kilometers southeast of here, opposition supporters stormed the government headquarters, forcing President Askar Akayev to flee and sparking two days of looting.

The city is now calm, but some businesses, fearing more violence, remained shut as the new leaders squabbled and Akayev, now in Russia, said he was the victim of an illegal coup.

"We are so focused on what we are doing here and we do not go off base much, so when this revolution ... happened, it did not make a lot of difference to anyone here," said Martin, 25, who works in the base's public relations section. "We get a lot of e-mails from our relatives at home saying, 'What's going on out there?' and we have to tell them everything's fine."

Russia leases an air force base at Kant, on the other side of Bishkek, making Kyrgyzstan the only country where both Russia and the U.S. have established bases. U.S. officials dismiss talk of any rivalry.

"We kind of never have any interaction with them. It's kind of strange, though. We are here, and they are over there," Martin said.

The U.S. base, which opened in December 2001, has become the main hub for moving men, equipment and supplies to U.S. and allied forces operating in nearby Afghanistan.

It is named after Chief Peter Ganci Jr. of the New York City Fire Department, who died in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center carried out by al-Qaida militants. The attack triggered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, which toppled the Taliban rulers who had sheltered al-Qaida.

Stratotankers and C-130 cargo aircraft line up on the tarmac beside the runway, which the base shares with Kyrgyzstan's main civilian airport.

The roughly 900 servicemen are billeted in tents and have their own store, coffee shop, gym and pool hall. The bar serves alcohol two nights per week.

There have been no reports of violence directed at U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan, and the new Kyrgyz leaders have said they want both Russian and U.S. bases to stay.

But the political tension means the commanding officer is unlikely to lift his five-month-old ban on trips outside the Ganci base.

"It will be a shame if I do not see anything here," said Senior Airman James Sturgill, from Texas, who was manning a checkpoint at the base. "I am a bit of a history buff. It would be nice to go downtown and see some of the sights."