US shifts supply routes to Central Asia...
WASHINGTON — The US military is expanding its Central Asian supply routes to the war in Afghanistan, fearing that the routes going through Pakistan could be endangered by deteriorating US-Pakistani relations, The Washington Post reported.
Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, the newspaper said that in 2009, the United States moved 90 percent of its military surface cargo through the Pakistani port of Karachi and then through mountain passes into Afghanistan.
Now almost 40 percent of surface cargo arrives in Afghanistan from the north, along a patchwork of Central Asian rail and road routes that the Pentagon calls the Northern Distribution Network, the report said.
The military is pushing to raise the northern network?s share to as much as 75 percent by the end of this year, the paper said.
In addition, the US government is negotiating expanded agreements with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries that would allow for delivery of additional supplies to the Afghan war zone, The Post said.
The United States also wants permission to withdraw vehicles and other equipment from Afghanistan as the US military prepares to pull out one-third of its forces by September 2012, the paper noted.
US President Barack Obama announced last month that 10,000 troops would leave this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by next summer, leaving a US force of some 65,000.
There are currently up to 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States. Obama has indicated a series of drawdowns until Afghan forces assume security responsibility in 2014....
The route would have followed railroads in China before crossing into Kazakhstan, where it would have linked up with supply lines that traverse Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, according to a Feb. 10, 2009, cable from Washington signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. China shares a small border with Afghanistan, but the stretch is remote and lacks adequate transit links.
The cable noted that China had “expressed interest in cooperating with the U.S. for delivery of non-lethal aid to Afghanistan” as far back as 2006. It also said the Pentagon was seeking only to move “non-lethal” items such as food, tents, blankets and construction material through China. Private commercial carriers would have been used, and no U.S. military personnel would have been present along the route.
The decision by Washington to seek help from Beijing underscored the degree to which the Pentagon wanted to reduce its reliance on an uncertain partner, Pakistan, to funnel most of its war supplies to Afghanistan. The cable noted that a new Chinese route would “provide an efficient and effective alternative to increasingly unstable Pakistani land routes, and could potentially cost less” than new supply lines crossing from Europe to Central Asia.
A cable sent in response three days later by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had agreed to consider the idea but was noncommittal. Deng Hongbo, deputy director of the ministry’s Department of North American and Oceanic Affairs, “welcomed the proposal and promised the Chinese side would study the idea and respond as soon as possible,” the cable stated.
China kept mum about the overture for months. Then in June 2009, a Chinese official raised Washington’s hopes during a meeting with a U.S. diplomat in Kazakhstan.
The Chinese official dined with Richard E. Hoagland, then the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, at a revolving restaurant on the top of a high-rise hotel in Astana, the capital. The official, who preferred to meet in public places because he believed his own embassy was “thoroughly bugged,” said the Chinese government was “actively researching” the U.S. supply route proposal, according to a U.S. cable.
The official confided, however, that China’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry were divided on the subject and said it would be hard for some officials to swallow the idea of giving active support to a NATO military operation.
“My own personal opinion,” the official told Hoagland, “is that we will do the right thing and cooperate with NATO and the U.S. government.”
But the Pentagon’s hopes for cooperation were dashed several months later. China suspended military relations with the United States in January 2010 to protest the sale of $6 billion weapons to Taiwan....