February 19, 2009 / 11:50 AM / 11 years ago

Q+A: Supply routes for Western troops in Afghanistan

(Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to close a U.S. air base in the Central Asian nation which is a transit point for U.S.-led fighting in nearby Afghanistan.

Here are some key questions and answers linked to the deployment.

WHAT IS THE U.S. BASE USED FOR?

Manas, the last remaining U.S. air base in Central Asia, is used as a stopover for ferrying supplies and troops into Afghanistan. About 15,000 people and 500 tonnes of cargo go through the base every month, the Pentagon says.

WHY IS THE DECISION SIGNIFICANT?

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to make Afghanistan a foreign policy priority and has ordered 17,0000 more troops sent to the south of the country to try to break the stalemate against Taliban insurgents.

The extra troops, added to 38,000 U.S. and 30,000 mostly NATO forces already in Afghanistan, will put more strain on supply lines to the landlocked country that have already been hit by a series of attacks on trucks bringing equipment through Pakistan.

WHAT ARE THE SUPPLIES ROUTES?

The cheapest way to bring bulk supplies to Afghanistan is by land. The U.S. Defense Department says the U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of fuel.

There are two land routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan, one through the Khyber Pass in northwest Pakistan to the border town of Torkham and on to Kabul. The other goes through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to the border town of Chaman and on to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The U.S. military and NATO do not give details of the supplies they get via Pakistan or a breakdown of how much comes on the two routes, but Pakistani customs officials say about 300 trucks with supplies for Western forces come through the Khyber Pass every day and about 100 through Chaman.

Another route from the sea through Iran is impractical for now due to the political problems between Tehran and the West.

The responsibility for equipping forces within NATO’s Afghan force lies with each country. Some nations, for example Germany, have long-standing agreements on the transport of supplies through Russia and Central Asia to the north.

Most of NATO’s fuel already comes from Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

A first shipment of goods for U.S. forces in Afghanistan is to leave Latvia soon and cross Russia and Central Asia by train under a new agreement. Fellow Baltic state Estonia said its ports could also be used. U.S. officials say 20 to 30 trainloads a week could go from Latvia to Afghanistan if the route is a success.

The chief of the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, was in Uzbekistan this week to negotiate bringing supplies through that country.

As well as the air route through Manas, troops and supplies are also airlifted into Afghanistan through bases in the Gulf and Europe.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

According to U.S. and NATO officials, there isn’t one.

U.S. commanders say the closure of Manas will have no effect on their operations in Afghanistan and say the losses on the route through the Khyber Pass are less than 1 percent of all supplies and operationally insignificant.

Since the beginning of December, some 300 trucks carrying supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan have been destroyed on their way through the Khyber Pass. As 300 supply trucks a day pass through that route, that is around 0.01 percent of the traffic on that route that has been destroyed since December 1, and that is excluding the supplies coming via other routes.

Pakistan has however closed its border for two to three days at a time in protest at suspected U.S. missile strikes on militant targets inside the Pakistani border tribal region.

U.S. and NATO commanders say that while they have large stockpiles of supplies, it is always a good policy to diversify supply routes and not rely too heavily on any single one.

Compiled by Jon Hemming; Editing by Valerie Lee

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