Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US Gets Russian and Central Asian Support For Afghan Operations

The outgoing Bush Administration has given the incoming Obama Administration a parting gift in the form of an agreement with Russia and several Central Asian countries to allow logistical support to aid the Afghan campaign bypassing the hotbed of Pakistan.
Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington's dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday.

Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani army said it had killed 60 militants in a stepped up offensive close to the Afghan border, a lawless region considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. Washington has long urged Islamabad to take the fight to the insurgents sheltering there.

U.S. and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their "non-lethal" supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that traverse Pakistan, a volatile, nuclear-armed country.

The main road through the Khyber Pass in the northwest of the country has occasionally been closed in recent months due to rising attacks by bandits and Islamist militants.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states close to or bordering Afghanistan during a tour of the region in the past week.

"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, told reporters during a visit to Pakistan.
President Obama has previously stated he intended to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan by 30,000, and that would have been extremely difficult given the problems Pakistan was having in controlling the supply lines from Pakistani port cities to the frontier provinces where the Taliban exert near full control. The Khyber Pass has been essentially closed indefinitely because of Taliban operations in the region. According to the Washington Post, 3/4 of nonlethal supplies for the US/NATO effort in Afghanistan currently passes through Pakistan from the port city of Karachi.

Pakistan has also been pressing Gen. Petraeus to halt the UAV airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda targets in the frontier provinces, but that didn't go over particularly well.

The problem, however, remains that the US, Afghan, NATO, and Pakistani forces have to deal with the border provinces where al Qaeda and Taliban operate freely. Pakistan has been extremely reluctant to engage in military operations in those border provinces, and their military has taken a pounding from Baitullah Mehsud's forces over the past several years.

The Taliban continue their assault on freedom and attacked five more schools yesterday. They, like their Islamist counterparts in Thailand, have made schools, teachers, and students, favorite targets, especially when they teach girls.

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