Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US is going to supply Afghanistan through the northern routes.

This news is significant in that it indicates how dependent Afghanistan continues to be on its linkages to the north. It is not only what comes into the country through the northern routes that matters but also what goes out, most critically for the economy at this time, opium, heroin, hashish; could it some day again be raisins, pistachio nuts, melons? The highways and railroads of Central Asia now reach places in Central Asia that once were quite inaccessible. Distances in time and cost for the local residents and for shippers are shorter. Practical concerns of the great powers may oblige Central Asia to become ever more accessible to the wider world, despite the protective and defensive instincts of those who rule there. [Click of the title to link to the source.]

NYTimes January 21, 2009
U.S. Secures New Supply Routes to Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Faced with the risk that Taliban attacks could imperil the main supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan, the United States military has obtained permission to move troop supplies through Russia and Central Asia, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in the Middle East, said on Tuesday.

About three-quarters of NATO supplies are normally shipped into Afghanistan from western Pakistan, most of them through the Khyber Pass, an ancient trade and military gateway that lies just west of the Pakistani frontier hub of Peshawar.

But Taliban guerrillas who dominate the northwestern Pakistani tribal areas have pushed deeper into the Khyber region recently, burning hundreds of NATO supply trucks in Peshawar and carrying out deadly attacks on NATO convoys.

The violence has led some Pakistani truckers to stop driving the route and has raised concerns that continued attacks might seriously hurt NATO’s ability to resupply troops. With the American deployment expected to as much as double this year to 60,000 troops, it has become even more critical to find new routes to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, General Petraeus said the American military had secured agreements with Russia and other countries to move supplies to Afghanistan from the north, easing the military’s heavy reliance on more dangerous routes through western Pakistan.

“It is very important as we increase the effort in Afghanistan that we have multiple routes that go into the country,” General Petraeus told reporters in Islamabad, where he had met with the head of the Pakistani Army as well as the country’s president and prime minister. The general had previously visited Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to discuss the issue.

“There have been agreements reached, and there are transit lines now and transit agreements for commercial goods and services in particular that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia,” he said.

Russia is the principal source of fuel for the alliance’s needs in Afghanistan, and the Kremlin already allows the shipment of nonlethal supplies bound for Afghanistan to travel across Russian territory by ground.

As if to underscore the instability of western Pakistani areas near the main NATO supply route, Pakistani security forces said Tuesday that they had killed 60 militants in fighting in Mohmand Agency, a Taliban stronghold north of the main road through the Khyber Pass.

According to reports in the Pakistani media, the country’s paramilitary troops, backed by artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships, fought militants on Monday and Tuesday in operations intended to root out guerrillas who a week earlier staged a 600-person assault on Pakistani outposts in Mohmand that left at least 6 Pakistani soldiers and 40 militants dead.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.

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