Washington, July 3: The American military is rapidly expanding its aerial and Central Asian supply routes to the war in Afghanistan, fearing that Pakistan could cut off the lines used for providing US and NATO forces with fuel, food and equipment.
Although Pakistan has not explicitly threatened to sever the supply lines, Pentagon officials said they are concerned the routes could be endangered by the deterioration of US-Pakistan relations, The Washington Post reports.
In September 2010, Pakistan had temporary shut down a major crossing into Afghanistan, resulting in a logjam of hundreds of supply trucks and fuel tankers, dozens of which were destroyed in attacks by insurgents.
Reducing the shipment of cargo through Pakistan would address a strategic weakness that US military officials have long considered an Achilles’ heel, but shifting supply lines elsewhere would substantially increase the cost of the war and make the United States more dependent on authoritarian countries in Central Asia, the report noted.
A senior US defense official said that the military wants to keep using Pakistan, which offers the most direct and the cheapest routes to Afghanistan, but the Pentagon also wants the ability to bypass the country if necessary.
With landlocked Afghanistan lacking seaports and hostile Iran blocking access from the west, Pentagon logisticians have limited alternatives, the report said.
“It’s either Central Asia or Pakistan — those are the two choices. We’d like to have both. We’d like to have a balance between them, and not be dependent on either one, but always have the possibility of switching,” the defense official said on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating Pakistan.
US military officials said they have emergency backup plans in case the Pakistan routes became unavailable, according to the report.
“We will be on time, all the time,” said Vice Admiral Mark D. Harnitchek, deputy commander of the US Transportation Command that oversees the supplies and equipment movement.
In such an event, however, the military would have to deliver the bulk of its cargo by air, a method that might not be sustainable, as it costs up to ten times as much as shipping via Pakistan.
“We’d have to be a little bit more mindful of what we put in the pipe,” Harnitchek said.
Also, there are two big limitations on what the Pentagon can ship through Central Asia. First, supplies are generally restricted to food, water and construction material, and ammunition, weapons and other “lethal” cargo are prohibited. Also, the routes are strictly one-way, and nothing can be shipped back out of the war zone, the report said.
US officials said they are trying to negotiate deals with several countries to remove those restrictions, the report said, adding that this will be crucial as the US withdraws 33,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 15 months, military leaders said. (ANI)