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U.S.-Pakistan Flare-Up Threatens Troop Supply Route

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U.S.-Pakistan Flare-Up Threatens Troop Supply Route


U.S.-Pakistan Flare-Up Threatens Troop Supply Route

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In another sign of the rift between the U.S. and Pakistan, some members of Congress want to suspend aid to Pakistan, and that causes concern for American military commanders.

As NPR's Quil Lawrence tells us, U.S. forces in Afghanistan depend on supplies shipped by truck from Pakistan, and the trucks' access can depend on the state of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The Torkham border, near the Afghan city of Jalalabad, bustles with travelers, some of them crossing the frontier on foot, others driving big Bedford cargo trucks decorated with jingling chains and colorful paintings.

Though Afghanistan borders five other countries, Pakistan is its main road to the sea. It's also the primary route keeping about 140,000 NATO troops supplied with everything from bullets to Gatorade. It's a long and treacherous road through the ancient Khyber Pass, but the deepest pitfalls along the way are political.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Pakistani truckers run the gauntlet of Pakistani-American relations with every trip from the ocean to NATO and U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Whenever there is a problem with international relations, Pakistan closes the border and they won't let us cross, says one trucker. And it's not easy even with the border open, the drivers say.

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: There are Taliban on the road, the drivers say, and once they get into the Pashtun tribal areas, people throw insults or even stones at the trucks they think are taking supplies to American bases in Afghanistan. Restaurants and hotels along the way refuse to serve them, the drivers say, and the local police can be just as troublesome as the local outlaws.

Every worry that a Pakistani truck driver has translates into a concern for U.S. military planners.

Brigadier General ED DORMAN (Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, CJ-4 International Security Assistance Force): It's always important for logisticians when they're supporting a war-fighting commander to not put all their eggs in one basket.

LAWRENCE: Brigadier General Ed Dorman says he's constantly assessing how to keep NATO forces inside Afghanistan supplied, not only through Pakistan, but also from Central Asia and into Afghanistan from the north. But Pakistan is the cheapest route by far, and that means Dorman keeps a close eye on current events, like the U.S. raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden last week.

Brig. Gen. DORMAN: You can't just focus on the beans and the bullets in the logistics lane, you have to be aware of what's going on, what kind of operations are occurring, so that you can sustain the fight.

LAWRENCE: Bumpy relations with Pakistan are nothing new, and Dorman says U.S. military officials have been working strenuously over the past year to open or expand other routes to keep the supplies coming.

Still, the preferred option is to have an open, cooperative relationship with Pakistan. That's according to American officials, but even more for Afghan officials, who will always have Pakistan as a neighbor, says Jaweed Ludin, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister.

Mr. JAWEED LUDIN (Deputy Foreign Minister, Afghanistan): No one knows that better than we do. Of course, they're important, and we realize that our relationship with Pakistan is going to remain a vital element in terms of restoring stability and peace to Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: At the same time, Ludin says now that the fact of bin Laden's sanctuary in Pakistan is undeniable, he's hoping for a more honest discussion.

Mr. LUDIN: The one thing from our point of view that has to be addressed is the fact that there are safe sanctuaries that terrorists and Taliban enjoy outside Afghanistan, and until these sanctuaries are removed, there is no way you can even imagine victory.

LAWRENCE: Ludin said elements inside Pakistan are probably just as surprised and angry about the apparent support for bin Laden. He hopes those elements will now be empowered.

In any event, Ludin says, Afghanistan has no interest in breaking off relations with Pakistan, and he hopes the U.S. Congress won't either.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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