Pakistan's decision to reopen ground supply routes on its border with Afghanistan will allow the U.S. Defense Department to save tens of millions of dollars in transporting material in and out of Afghanistan.
At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, senior spokesman Capt. John Kirby said officials estimated that use of the reopened routes would save $70 million to $100 million per month.
Kirby noted that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had told Congress that since Pakistan had closed the routes in November, resupplying forces in Afghanistan had been costing the United States about $100 million more per month.
After Islamabad agreed to reopen the Alliance's supply routes it closed in response to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border air raid by foreign coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan last year, the first NATO truckloads crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan on Thursday.
After months of negotiations to reopen the cargo routes, the breakthrough came on Tuesday during a telephonic conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Pak counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, during which Clinton conveyed Washington's "deepest regrets" over the tragic incident.
Pakistan closed the supply routes after American troops came under fire from Pakistan on November 26. U.S. forces returned fire and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan responded by closing the main overland supply routes for U.S.-NATO forces into Afghanistan.
U.S. logistics specialists quickly shifted to other means, such as the Northern Distribution Network, to supply the forces, but the routes through Pakistan are considered the most direct and cost-effective.
Pentagon says that although the Pakistani ground supply routes are cheaper, coalition forces will continue to use the Northern Distribution Network as well.
"The Northern Distribution Network is still a viable, vital method through which logistics flow in and out of Afghanistan," Kirby told reporters. "One of the things that we're looking at, more [now] than we were in November when the [Pakistani ground supply routes] closed, was retrograde -- the need to get material out of Afghanistan. So the Northern Distribution Network will still remain vital as we move forward," he added.
Kirby said traffic started to flow through the Pakistan ground gates, and that "the same agreement we had before they were closed are in existence now." No lethal material is permitted to flow through the ground lines of communication, unless it is designed and designated solely for the Afghan national security forces.
Kirby said the United States and Pakistan continue to work to "get this relationship on better footing, as we start to look at the common challenges in the region."
Separately, at a State Department briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell termed the opening of the NATO supply lines as "a tangible demonstration of Pakistan's support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan."
He insisted that Washington was "focused on moving forward in our relations with Pakistan as best we can. We have many shared interests, including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, increasing trade and investment between our countries and the region, and in strengthening our people-to-people ties," Ventrell told reporters.
by RTT Staff Writer
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