NATO, US seek alternatives to Pakistan supply routes

By , Correspondent

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    Pakistani drivers stood beside half burnt trucks after militants attack at a terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on Sunday, April 12, 2009.
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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Militants attacked a supply depot Sunday in Pakistan that serves Western forces in Afghanistan, increasing the pressure for US and NATO officials to find alternatives to their beleaguered supply lines.

In a predawn raid in the northwestern city of Peshawar, scores of Pakistani Taliban guerrillas torched trucks stationed at the supply terminal. The assault is the latest in a series that have targeted the Western supply convoys that run through Pakistan to replenish forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Attacks on convoys and depots increased dramatically in 2008 after militants gained a foothold in the Khyber Agency, an area bordering Afghanistan through which supply routes run. The guerrillas have torched more than 500 vehicles in the last year, and a number of times they even succeeded in temporarily halting the supply chain altogether.

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Some 70 percent of Western supplies come through the militant-infested western Pakistan. To add to US and NATO difficulties, another major supply route via a base in Kyrgyzstan, is slated to close.

“This is strategically vital,” says Waliullah Rahmani, policy analyst with the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “For the Americans to win this war, it’s important to find another route.”

US officials are actively seeking such routes. A series of recently-inked agreements allow the movement of non-lethal materiel through the former Soviet Central Asian States. The Monitor recently reported on US efforts to open a supply route through Uzbekistan. Officials are also considering other, even more complicated routes that pass through the caucuses.

But the alternatives come with difficulties of their own. The new “northern route” utilizes a complex rail network through many different countries, taking longer and costing more than the Pakistani route. And American overtures to the former Soviet states, in what is widely considered Russia’s sphere of influence, might spark tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Still, Moscow fears the growing strength of Islamic militants on its flank, and may be willing to work with the US and NATO. Click here to read about it.

But replacing Pakistan supply routes completely won't be easy. The American military uses jet fuel of a standard only produced in the Gulf States and Pakistani refineries. “This will make it hard for the US to abandon Pakistan even if the northern routes work out,” says Mr. Rahmani.

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