By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 31, 2008 - As Pakistani troops apply renewed pressure on militants who have threatened a major supply line, military transportation officials are seeking alternate routes for supplying U.S. and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan. Pakistani forces yesterday renewed offensive operations targeting militants who, in recent weeks, have attacked some supply convoys that transit the Khyber Pass.
That supply route runs hundreds of miles from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and then through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass route provides about 75 percent of the U.S. supplies to troops in Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis' action, which caused a temporary closure of the Khyber Pass supply route, was hailed in a joint statement issued by NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
"We are pleased with the operation to clear out the insurgents in the areas adjacent to the pass, so that our supplies can get through unhindered," the statement said. "This temporary delay will result in long-term gains for all that use that passage route.
"There is no immediate impact on our ability to provide supplies to the troops," the statement concluded.
Still, military officials have been looking for other options. U.S. Transportation Command's top officer, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, traveled to several Central Asian countries in November to explore options for establishing added supply routes for Afghanistan operations, Transcom spokeswoman Cynthia Bauer said today during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service. Transcom is based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
Bauer declined to mention specific countries, but Central Asian nations north of Afghanistan include Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan allows U.S. military cargo flights to use its airfields.
"We've been looking at alternate distribution routes for a while," "[It's] just good business practice and U.S. Transcom's responsibility," Bauer said, especially given the unpredictability of war.
"This is a comprehensive enterprise to bring supplies to the troops in Afghanistan, accomplished through teamwork with commercial partners and working relationships with other governments," Bauer said.
Transcom would use private contractors for supply distribution, Bauer said, noting this process would provide potential economic benefits for Central Asian countries and Eurasia's Caucasus region. Local purchase of supplies needed in Afghanistan is another possibility, she added.
Contractors crossing the Khyber Pass from Pakistan are trucking mostly nonmilitary items such as food and other basic needs to troops in Afghanistan, Bauer said.
"You're not seeing MRAPs" going through the Khyber Pass, she said, referring to the acronym for the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles used in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan also have stockpiled supplies, Bauer pointed out, noting there's no danger they'll run out.