The Afghan alternate supply route

NY Times:

The United States and NATO are planning to open and expand supply lines through Central Asia to deliver fuel, food and other goods to a military mission in Afghanistan that is expected to grow by tens of thousands of troops in the months ahead, according to American and alliance diplomats and military officials.

The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they launched an offensive against militants in the region.

The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and American Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.

But the new arrangements could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights.

The officials said delicate negotiations were under way not only with the Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan, but with Russia, as well, to work out the details of new supply routes. The talks show the continued importance of American and NATO cooperation with the Kremlin, despite lingering tension over Russia’s August war with Georgia.

American officials said they were trying to allay Central Asian concerns by promising that the supplies would be hauled by commercial shipping companies only and would not include weapons or munitions. Officials also say that no additional American bases will be required on their territory.

Some of Afghanistan’s neighbors, in particular Kyrgyzstan, already serve as staging areas for American supplies bound for Afghanistan, and officials involved in the talks said these countries appeared eager to increase their role, both to help bring stability in the region, and to benefit commercially from the arrangement.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share Afghanistan’s northern border, and they have road transport routes into Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan, farther to the north, allows American military cargo planes access to its airfields, in a deal that has become more important since 2005, when the government of Uzbekistan ordered the United States to leave a base there in a dispute over human rights issues. American and NATO officials say concerns about Uzbekistan’s human rights record are less important to the current negotiations because no new bases are under discussion and any increased supply shipments would be handled by contracts with commercial trucking companies.

Among other states, Kazakhstan is viewed as a potentially important supply hub, while the Caspian Sea port of Baku, Azerbaijan, could be a potential transit point for shipments of fuel and other goods arriving from Europe by sea or by rail.

Geography is one reason why Afghanistan has been largely bypassed by history. For most it is hardly worth the effort of getting there much less fighting there. That worked to al Qaeda's advantage for awhile, but the US and NATO are determined to not let al Qaeda's Taliban allies thwart supplying troops and this route will do until Pakistan can clear the main supply route.

The current fight with the Taliban along the MSR offers the Pakistan army some advantages. The Taliban have to give up their advantage of ambiguity of time and place of attack as they defend their forces acting like the Billy Goat Gruff of Pakistan highways.


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