(Recasts, adds background)
By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD Jan 20 U.S. regional military chief
General David Petraeus said on Tuesday agreements had been
reached for new transport routes into northern Afghanistan
through Central Asia.
Those routes would supplement shipments through Pakistan
where Taliban militants have been attacking trucks carrying
goods to Western forces in land-locked Afghanistan.
Petraeus, on a visit to Pakistan, also said a U.S. air base
in Kyrgystan used as a staging post for its operations in
Afghanistan, should stay open.
"There have been agreements reached and there are transit
lines now and transit agreements for commercial goods and
services in particular, that includes several of the countries
in Central Asia and Russia," Petraeus told reporters.
The U.S. Central Command chief visited Kyrgystan,
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in recent days where he
said he discussed the possibility of increasing supplies for
Western forces in Afghanistan.
He did not give details but said the new routes into
Afghanistan were important in view of a build-up of U.S. forces
there this year.
"This is very important, as we increase the effort in
Afghanistan, that we have multiple routes that go into the
country," he said.
The United States plans to build up its Afghan force,
perhaps doubling it to 60,000 soldiers this year, but its main
supply route through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan's northwest
has become increasingly vulnerable to attacks by Taliban
There are two border-crossing points for goods shipped to
the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked into Afghanistan --
one through the town of Chaman into Afghanistan's Kandahar
province and the other to the northeast, through the Khyber
The Taliban have repeatedly attacked trucks and staging
areas on the Khyber route and Pakistan itself has closed it
twice in recent months due to government operations against the
But Petraeus said supplies had generally been getting
through Khyber, except for a couple of interruptions.
Petraeus said he had had "important" meetings with the
prime minister and defence minister of Kyrgystan on the issue
of the base in Manas during a visit to Bishkek on Monday.
A source close to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's
office told Reuters last week that the Central Asian state was
preparing a statement announcing the closure of the base.
"It was noted that it is again in everyone's interest that
we should all support the Kyrgyz government and that in fact
the partnership, that includes Manas, should continue and be
strengthened," Petraeus said.
In Bishkek, Petraeus said the possibility of closing the
base did not figure in his meetings with the Kyrgyz leaders.
Washington set up the base, now home to more than 1,000
military personnel, in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan in 2001 after the
start of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
Russia, which also operates a military air base in
Kyrgyzstan, saw the arrival of U.S. forces as Washington's
attempt to squeeze Moscow's influence in the ex-Soviet region.
Russian media have separately reported that Bakiyev would
announce the closure of the U.S. base ahead of his planned
visit to Moscow next month. The Kyrgyz government has not
officially commented on the matter.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Bill Tarrant)