The United States has negotiated approval from five countries to expand the so-called northern route for supplies to enter and leave Afghanistan, mitigating some of the damage done when Pakistan closed truck routes from the south in November in reaction to a NATO airstrike that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers.
“We now have a two-way approval to move equipment back out of Afghanistan,” Air Force Gen. William Fraser III, head of the U.S. Transport Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. The agreement will allow non-lethal supplies and equipment plus wheeled armored vehicles to enter and leave Afghanistan, something that was not permitted before, Fraser said.
Arms and lethal weapons have been carried by aircraft, which are still being used to transport materiel brought to Pakistan by ship, Fraser said.
The expanded northern route agreement involves Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia and will help remove troops and motorized equipment as a reduction in U.S. and coalition forces takes place over the next two years. Fraser said the new approach must still be tested. He added that Pakistan land supply routes still need to be opened “because of the large numbers that we’re talking about that we need to bring out in a timely manner.”
“We’re tasked this year to bring another 23,000 troops out by the first of October,” he said, noting that excess equipment is already being identified. In addition, all cargo-capable aircraft that now fly into Afghanistan are being used to remove excess equipment, Fraser said.
In the past, Pakistan’s truck routes to Afghanistan carried 60 percent to 70 percent of NATO supplies while the northern route handled the rest.