Washington briefing: U.S. considers Caucasus to Central Asia route to supply Afghanistan forces

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday December 06, 2008

Washington - With an increasingly unstable Pakistan, the United States is looking into the possibility of supplying its forces in Afghanistan via the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Washington Post reported on November 18 citing Pentagon documents. Since President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the need for additional supplies may add to existing concerns.

There are currently 67,000 allied soldiers in Afghanistan, of whom about half are Americans. According to the Post, 75 percent of all supplies to these forces, such as food, gas, and military equipment, currently come from Pakistan or through its port of Karachi, from where they are taken by truck into Afghanistan. Truckers have come under increased Taliban attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan denied the attacks have affected military operations. Nevertheless, the Defense Department dispatched head of the U.S. Transportation Command Gen. Duncan McNabb to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in mid-November.

Since 2001, the U.S. has used the Caucasus to Central Asia air corridor, but not the land route which would have to start at one of Georgian ports then cross Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and one or more Central Asian states before reaching Afghanistan. Shipments would be conducted by a contractor who would need to hire local security.

Pentagon documents cited by the Post suggest that the U.S. already secured Georgia's approval for what it called a "northern route," and was in talks with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The Pentagon said it did "not expect transit agreements with Iran or Uzbekistan."

But according to a Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) analysis published on November 19, the United States will have to continue to rely on Pakistan for most of its supplies, with a much longer and more complicated Central Asian route potentially serving as a reserve option. In addition to the logistics of that route, the United States would have to take into account Russia's increasingly prominent role in Central Asia.

According to the Post, this year Russia agreed to facilitate nonlethal supplies to pass from Europe through its rail system into Central Asia and from there by truck to Afghanistan.

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