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New US strategy: 'lily pad' bases

US forces are repositioning overseas forces, opting for smaller, transitory bases in places like Kyrgyzstan.

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With its tall weeds, collapsed and rusted light towers, and an aircraft graveyard that includes Soviet-era wooden biplanes, Manas International Airport lacks the aura of a pioneering US military facility.

Yet its generous, 14,000-foot runway is packed with US Air Force KC-135 refueling jets and C-130 transport planes flying multiple daily missions in support of American missions in Afghanistan and beyond.

A stone's throw from the airport, the US Air Force is busy replacing the bare "tent city" it built here in late 2001 with hard-walled structures made out of metal shipping containers - a sign the US military is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

"It looks permanent, but it could be unbolted and unwelded if we felt like it," says Col. Mike Sumida, vice commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing here, underscoring the military's new expeditionary mentality.

Indeed, in many ways, the US air base here models the future posture of the 1.4-million-strong American active-duty forces as they prepare to undertake their biggest global repositioning since the Korean War.

Under dramatic changes envisioned by the Pentagon, tens of thousands of US troops will leave sprawling, citylike cold-war bases in Germany and Korea to return home in coming years. Meanwhile, smaller numbers will shift to austere yet strategically located new bases such as Manas, expanding the military's reach into world trouble spots.

A presence near lawless zones

At the heart of the strategy is the Pentagon's desire to take the offense in a post-Sept. 11 world where future threats are unpredictable, although broadly seen as emanating from lawless or less developed regions. The goal, therefore, is the fast, flexible, and efficient projection of force - with "lily pad" bases like Manas playing crucial role as staging points.

In fact, the Pentagon's sweeping Global Posture Review, now under consideration by the Bush administration, is less focused on specific troop deployments than on extending broad military capabilities, US defense officials say. Especially vital is the "forward basing" of air and sea power able to skirt national boundaries and political sensitivities as well as the prepositioning of large, off-shore stocks of tanks, armored vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment that incoming troops can readily draw upon.

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