Taliban militants have concentrated their efforts for months on interdicting US supply routes to Afghanistan from the port of Karachi, Pakistan.
75 percent of the supplies for the Afghan war pass through Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel used by US military forces.
The Khyber Pass, described by Kipling as “a sword cut through the mountains,” features a winding road 30 miles/48 km long through the mountains of the Hindu Kush a crucial part of the trade route between Peshawar and Jallabad.
Reporting from Istanbul, Turkey, and Peshawar, Pakistan — A day after blowing up a crucial land bridge, Taliban militants torched 10 supply trucks returning from Afghanistan to Pakistan on Wednesday, underscoring the insurgents’ dominance of the main route used to transport supplies to Afghan-based U.S. and NATO troops.
Months of disruptions on the route from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the historic Khyber Pass have forced NATO and American military authorities to look for other transit options. About three-quarters of the supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan — mainly food and fuel — are ferried through Pakistan by contractors, usually poorly paid, semiliterate truckers. Many now refuse to drive the route because of the danger.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said last month during a visit to the region that routes outside Pakistan had been found, but he provided no details and gave no timetable for their use. The supply question has taken on added urgency with the planned deployment of up to 30,000 more U.S. troops in the Afghan theater in the next 18 months.
The complications of moving supplies through Central Asia were also highlighted Tuesday when the government of Kyrgyzstan said it would close a U.S. air base important to the Afghan war effort. U.S. officials said talks were underway to keep the base open.
That closure results from our Russian friends’ latest move in playing the great game.
The Russia of Vladimir Putin and his puppet, President Dmitry Medvedev, threw some sand in our gears by getting the Kyrgyz government to close a vital NATO air base in that country in exchange for more than $2 billion in aid for that country’s struggling economy.
Russia has long resisted and resented U.S. interference in former Soviet republics as well as the expansion of NATO and democracy to the Russian border. It has put economic pressure on Ukraine, invaded Georgia and threatened Poland with missile attack. Now it wants to sabotage our efforts in Afghanistan, a country it failed to swallow up.
Two weeks ago, Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, met with senior Kyrgyz officials during a tour of the region, and they assured him there were no discussions with Moscow about closing the base in exchange for aid.
Petraeus announced on inauguration day that Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations had agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening our dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan.
That need was shown Tuesday, when insurgents in Pakistan blew up a bridge in the Khyber Pass, disrupting one of two truck routes from the port of Karachi by which the 60,000 U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan receive about 80% of their supplies.
“We have sought additional logistical routes into Afghanistan from the north. There have been agreements reached,” Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said.
But as Moscow was offering new supply lines, it was also bribing the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to close the base at Manas by agreeing to provide Kyrgyzstan with $150 million in aid, to extend $2 billion in loans and to write off debt worth $180 million. Bakiyev made the announcement in Moscow.
The Russian business daily Kommersant, citing a “source close to the negotiations” with Bakiyev, said Moscow had made the U.S. base closure a strict condition for Kyrgyzstan getting aid.