By Carlo Muñoz - 12/20/13 09:48 AM EST
The Pentagon's decision to forgo using key supply lines in Pakistan will not affect the U.S. military's withdrawal plans in Afghanistan, according to top Defense Department leaders.
Pentagon planners are looking to alternate land supply routes out of Afghanistan, as well as increase air shipments of American equipment and material out of the country, to offset the loss of the Pakistani lines, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel added during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
"Logistics is about options, and it always is. And we have options to the north. We have another route to the south. We do use air now ... and we're still moving on a couple of other ground lines," the Pentagon chief said.
"We do have options. We're using those other options. We'll continue to keep those options in play," Hagel added.
American and NATO supply trucks have been stranded along the contested supply lines near the Afghan-Pakistan border, after protesters blocked those routes in an attempt to end U.S. drone strikes in the country.
Roughly 1,500 trucks, loaded down with equipment and supplies bound for U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, have been stuck in the volatile northwest provinces of Pakistan for weeks, due to the protests.
The protest is being led by local leaders in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which abuts the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Security concerns for military and civilian shipping firms moving along the routes, prompted by the drone protest, forced the Pentagon to close those lines.
While the Defense Department continues to pursue other options, getting those lines back open remains a top department priority, according to Hagel.
"We got a long way to go, a lot of troops to move out yet, a lot of equipment to move out yet, but this is an issue that is as high on the priority list as any that we all have to make sure we stay on track with that," he said.