MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- Mazar-e-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan and home to the famous blue mosque, hosts several NATO base camps and a vital NATO airfield that receives high priority cargo such as mine resistant vehicles. As part of ISAF Regional Command — North, military forces from Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Norway, Latvia, Sweden, and the U.S. are based in and around Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan as part of ISAF Regional Command — North.
NATO peacekeeping forces in and around the city provide assistance to the local government. Camp Marmal and Camp Spann are the two main base camps located in Mazar-e-Sharif and are on opposite sides of the city center.
Brig. Gen. Frank Leidenberger (Germany), RC-North commander, stated that Afghanistan's air traffic infrastructure needed to be rebuilt, which is one of the reasons Germany decided to step in and fund a new runway project in Mazar-e-Sharif. This project offers a large opportunity to boost traffic into the region, it provides the potential for an economic boom in the province," said Razz Mohammad Aelmi, Afghan Deputy Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation.
The new NATO-funded runway was built alongside the old runway, which is in urgent need of repair and can no longer be used by large-capacity aircraft. Maj. Gen. Jochen Both, ISAF Joint Command deputy chief of staff for air operations, highlighted the decisive role the runway will have on reconstruction and stabilization in northern Afghanistan. It will be used as a hub for NATO troops flowing into northern Afghanistan as part of the troop increase.
The military side of the Mazar-e-Sharif airport is run by the German military. The U.S. Air Force provides "aerial porters" that receive and process U.S. military cargo from various aircrafts. Recently, mine resistant vehicles have been flown into the airfield and processed onward throughout the northern Afghan region.
Mazari Sharif means "Noble Shrine," a reference to the large, blue-tiled sanctuary and mosque in the center of the city known as the Blue Mosque. It is believed by some Muslims that the site of the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad is in Mazar-e-Sharif.