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US Supply Routes to Afghanistan Uncertain

US and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan are becoming increasingly untenable. In Pakistan, through which the vast majority of military supplies pass, the fighting has grown even more pitched. Militants, on Tuesday, blew up a key bridge that lead to the Khyber Pass. This left a number of supply convoys stranded. Following this 10 trucks carrying material for NATO troops were attacked, after they were stranded due to the damaged bridge. “Militants sprinkled oil and then fired rockets at a terminal in the border town of Landi Kotal” late on Tuesday, said local government official Rahat Gul. “The attack triggered a blaze that gutted eight containers mounted on lorries and badly damaged two others,” he said.

The main alternative routes that the US has been investigating run down north of Afghanistan. This would require that they pass through the Central Asian countries, where Russian influence is significant. The focus has been on Kyrgyzstan, the only Central Asian state that has a US military base left on its soil. In 2005, Uzbekistan expelled US troops from its territory.

Kyrgyzstan has for years now threatened to do what it’s neighbour Uzbekistan did and shut down the US base on its soil. For weeks now rumours and unofficial Kyrgyz government announcements have suggested a growing move to threaten the base’s closure. The latest threat comes from Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

President Bakiyev was visiting Russia at the time, meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev. The Washington Post reports that, following the meeting, “Russia agreed to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2 billion in loans and $150 million in financial aid, and also to write off $180 million in debt and build a $1.7 billion hydropower plant.”

U.S. payments to Kyrgyzstan currently total $150 million a year, of which about $63 million is rent for the Manas base. “We hope to continue those discussions because Manas is vitally important to our operations in Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. Morrell added, however, that “we can continue without it, obviously.”

…The Manas base is “pretty inexpensive from the U.S. point of view when you consider what it gives us in terms of access in the region,” the official said. “I don’t know what price the United States is willing to pay . . . but at the same time I don’t know whether we’re willing to be held hostage.”

President Bakiyev states that the political cost of keeping the Manas base has increased, especially following an incident in which a Kyrgyz civilian was shot by a base guard at its entrance. Kyrgyzstan’s government has requested to try the US soldier and been refused. The President and other politicians have, in the face of public anger, expressed concern for what this means for Kyrgyztan’s sovereignty. This has been forwarded as the main reason for considering the US base closure unless the pact is renegotiated.

You can learn more about Russian involvement and have a little more background on the supply routes by reading an earlier post titled Military Supply Routes to Afghanistan Reflect US and Russian Regional Competition.

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