By Mike Mount
U.S. and NATO equipment will have a guaranteed route out of Afghanistan after an agreement with Central Asian countries allowing the alliance to completely cut out the shorter Pakistani access routes NATO has used for years.
In a Monday press conference in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that a deal had been struck between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to allow the alliance's equipment to be moved through their territories. A deal already set with Russia will allow the equipment to be moved directly though land into Europe, and to air bases to fly the U.S. equipment home.
Pentagon officials said talks with the Pakistanis on opening the ground routes through Pakistan to the southern port of Karachi are still ongoing, but have yet to produce an agreement to re-open the routes, known as Ground Lines of Communication or (GLOC).The NATO deal with the Central Asian countries seems to indicate a deal with Pakistan may not happen or will be indefinitely delayed. Talks between NATO and Pakistan have been ongoing for several weeks to reopen the lines closed since a November 2011, mistaken attack on Pakistani troops by NATO forces. The attack killed 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan.
The NATO alliance in Afghanistan began using the northern distribution route almost immediately after Pakistan closed its borders to supplies coming in and equipment and material leaving Afghanistan.
The northern passageway costs considerably more, more than double what the United States and NATO had been paying Pakistan.
Costs for the Pakistani route ranges somewhere around $250 per truck while trucks passing through the northern route can cost upwards of $1,200 per truck. During the negotiations with Pakistan, U.S. and NATO officials said that Pakistan wanted to raise its transit rates to as much as $5,000 per truck, something the United States said it would not pay.
"These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need," said Rasmussen as he announced the new transport deal and said the deal would make "the use of the Russian transit arrangements even more effective."
NATO plans to remove its final combat troops at the end of 2014 and hand over full security responsibility to Afghanistan then. Afghanistan is set to have around 350,000 of its own security forces in place at that point with a still-to-be-determined number of U.S. and international forces left behind to train the Afghan forces.