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Supply Route to Afghanistan via Russia Almost Open: SACEUR

About those supply lines that snake their way through Pakistan carrying beans and bullets to the troops in Afghanistan and have come under some fairly intense insurgent attacks in recent months, the top American commander in Europe, Gen. Bantz Craddock, said he is putting the final touches on an agreement to open up an alternate overland transit route through Russia and the “–Stans,” either Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan.

Last month, militants attacked a supply convoy near the Khyber Pass in Pakistan and reportedly destroyed more than 160 Humvees and trucks bound for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In recent months, Taliban and other insurgent groups have stepped up bombings and raids on both sides of the Khyber Pass and in the nearby city, Peshawar, raising fears that the vital supply lines could be shut down.

While somewhat downplaying the threat to NATO supplies, Craddock, speaking to DC based defense reporters last week, said commanders “always want flexibility,” and so the U.S. penned a transit agreement with Russia and is now negotiating with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to see which will open up the final stage of a northern supply route to Afghanistan. NATO already moves supplies along that route, he said, though the current agreement allowed only “non-lethal” supplies; commanders hope to expand that to include weapons and ammunition.

Craddock said Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani recently assured him that the supply line attacks going off in his country were but a “temporal” issue and that the “business interests” of those parties involved will soon override any security threats. The Pakistani general said the recent attacks were the work of criminal gangs, not insurgents, a move by one trucking company against another to try and free up, and then secure, lucrative shipping contracts.

Criminality and drug trafficking are the drivers behind the precipitous decline in security throughout Afghanistan in recent years, Craddock said, “sixty percent of the country has criminal problems, not insurgent problems.” He said NATO is not losing there, "but it’s not winning fast enough.” Corruption in the Afghan government is rampant and getting worse, he said. While security and development efforts in eastern Afghanistan are coming along, a “security stalemate” exists in the south, “because of the poppy belt, and a very coherent Pashtun insurgency, the Taliban are very coherent in the south.”

NATO was forced to move against heroin traffickers because of the amount of drug money that is being funneled to insurgents, Craddock said, agreeing with UN estimates that put that amount between $200 to $500 million annually. “If we can take the money away from insurgents and limit their ability to pay new insurgents and buy materials for IEDs and suicide bombers that’s our asymmetric effort against them and I think it can be very powerful,” he said.

NATO troops’ counternarcotics efforts had been restricted to providing very limited support to the Afghan military and police, but were recently expanded to include direct targeting of drug labs, traffickers and precursor chemicals. So far, NATO is staying away from crop eradication, a move that would likely alienate much of the population that depends on revenue from poppy cultivation.

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