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US negotiating Afghan exit routes with 5 Asian countries to avoid dependency on Pak

Washington, Sun, 26 Feb 2012 ANI

Washington, Feb 26 (ANI): US officials are reportedly discussing new transportation agreements with five Central Asian countries that would enable the military to withdraw from Afghanistan without having to rely mainly on land routes through Pakistan.


Officials said a briefing team drawn from several US agencies visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all former Soviet republics that are close to or share borders with Afghanistan.


The officials said the visits come as America lays the groundwork for withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014, The Wall Street Journal reports.


Afghanistan depend heavily on supplies from what is known as the Northern Distribution Network, a system of rail, sea and truck routes that begins at Baltic and Black sea ports and winds across Central Asia.


Traffic along the route is limited by agreements to "nonlethal" cargo such as food, fuel and construction equipment, and it goes only one way, into Afghanistan.


US officials now want to "reverse" the network, so the American military has more options to move hardware out of Afghanistan.


According to the paper the negotiations come amid rocky US relations with Pakistan, once the primary route for overland cargo bound for Afghanistan.


In late November, Islamabad closed key border crossings into Afghanistan to North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply convoys following a US airstrike that claimed the lives of Pakistani troops.


The meetings in Central Asian capitals also come amid concern in the region about Afghanistan after the departure of U.S. and allied troops.


The US government official said the briefing team also updated Central Asian counterparts about the current situation there, where violence has escalated after a wave of protests over the burning of Qurans at a US military base.


"Naturally, the countries that share borders with Afghanistan have ongoing interests in regional security and stability, including counter narcotics efforts and border security," the paper quoted a US official, as saying.


"These briefings were part of our regular efforts to exchange information on these issues and update and coordinate with our bilateral partners in the region," the official added.


Meanwhile, the Obama administration has moved to bolster ties with Uzbekistan, one key country along the northern transportation route.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently waived a ban on military assistance to the country, a move that would temporarily allow the US to provide nonlethal defensive equipment to Tashkent. (ANI)


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