Pentagon mulls options in case Pakistan closes military supply routes

Pentagon officials are examining alternate ways to move weapons and supplies into Afghanistan should Pakistani officials shut down logistical routes through their nation.

Since the U.S.-led mission began in late 2001, Pakistan has allowed U.S. military ground convoys to use its turf to move weapons, ammunition, food, water and other supplies into Afghanistan.

But with tensions at a boiling point, Senate Armed Services Committee leaders raised concerns Thursday about what would happen if that access were denied.

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Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top senators on the panel, pressed Air Force Gen. William Fraser on what the Pentagon is doing to plan for a Pakistani shuttering of the supply lines into Afghanistan.

Fraser, nominated to take over as U.S. Transportation Command chief, told the panel Pentagon officials are examining a number of options, including moving more materiel over the soil of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors.

“We have made progress in the northern supply network,” Fraser told the committee. He said he wants to “expand operations there as an alternate mode for getting goods into the theater.”

In addition, military officials are mulling options that include moving supplies into Afghanistan by air, Fraser said.

That option might work, McCain said, but he said aerial logistics missions are “four or five times more expensive” than moving supplies on the ground.

Right now, 35 percent of the material the U.S. military moves into Afghanistan via ground goes through Pakistan, Fraser said. The other 65 percent is transported by ground from the “northern supply network” nations or by air, he added.

Pentagon officials also are working to gain access to more sea ports in the region, the TransCom nominee said. If more materiel has to brought into the area by sea, Fraser said, it would then be air-lifted into Afghanistan.

Tensions between Washington and Islamabad have been high since a Navy SEALS team went into Pakistan without that country’s permission and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

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