January 21, 2009 in Nation/World

U.S. gets OK for new routes to Afghanistan

Central Asian access cuts danger of Pakistan link
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Army Gen. David Petraeus said Tuesday that the United States had reached agreements to open “additional logistical routes into Afghanistan” through its Central Asian neighbors to the north, reducing dependence on Pakistan as the main transit route for supplies to U.S. and NATO troops.

Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, spoke to reporters in Pakistan before heading to Afghanistan, his last stop on a six-nation tour of the region. He is due in Washington to attend a national security meeting today with President Obama.

The White House meeting will mark Obama’s first formal engagement with the most immediate foreign policy issues he faces, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen are expected to attend.

Petraeus, whose command stretches from the Mediterranean to Pakistan’s border with India, will provide an update on the region and his trip. Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will join at least part of the meeting via live videoconference. Their participation leaves open the question of whether Obama will follow former President George W. Bush’s practice of consulting directly with military commanders in the field – Petraeus in particular – rather than following the formal chain of command through Gates, with Mullen as the president’s chief military adviser.

Obama is expected to name former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, as his special envoy to the Middle East.

About three-quarters of “nonlethal” supplies for the 64,000-strong U.S. and NATO force in Afghanistan – food, fuel, construction materials and other goods – travel by road from the Pakistani port of Karachi and across the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border through the Khyber Pass. Pakistani transit convoys have repeatedly been attacked in recent months by Taliban fighters.

During an eight-day trip, Petraeus stopped in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan. “There have been agreements reached” over new transit routes, he said, although he offered no specifics. One possible route includes train and truck convoys through Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

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