Pentagon begins handover of critical base near Afghanistan

The base had been a fixture in the U.S. arsenal in the region since the beginning of the Afghan war more than a decade ago.

As a result, the Manas base and surrounding facilities will be completely handed over to the Kyrgyz government by July 2014, a month after all American combat forces are due to be out of Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon statement. 

"The U.S. appreciates the support provided by the Kyrgyz people to U.S. forces and coalition efforts to counter the threat of terrorism and to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan and the region," according to the statement. 

Manas, along with other bases scattered throughout the South Asian region, was seen as a critical throughfare to airlift the mountain of American weapons and equipment out of Afghanistan in time to meet the White House's 2014 withdrawal deadline. 

With the closest seaport located in Karachi, Pakistan, American and allied forces are limited to air and land routes to transition equipment and material out of Afghanistan. 

Known as the Northern Distribution Network, U.S. and allied forces have continually used these lines to move men and materiel to and from Afghanistan through places like Manas and other U.S. installations in Turkmenistan and elsewhere. 

That said, Pentagon officials will work closely with Krygyzstan to manage the Manas handover "while continuing to support the International Security Assistance Force mission" in Afghanistan. 

There are roughly 55,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but most are expected to rotate back to the United States over the coming months. 

The final American units will head back stateside after the April 2014 presidential elections, marking the end of the American war in Afghanistan.