US starts using Pakistan route for Afghan pullout


us startsISLAMABAD: Kicking-off the first phase of the American pull-out from Afghanistan, US has started using Pakistani land routes to withdraw its military hardware from Afghanistan, with 50 shipping containers moved over the weekend.

The first convoy of containers with military gear crossed the Torkham border check post in northwest Pakistan.

The containers will be transported to the port city of Karachi to be shipped back to the US.

Fawad Khan, an official of the shipping company Bilal Associates, told reporters that his firm had received clearance to move the US equipment across the border on Friday.

He said the first convoy of 25 containers cleared by Pakistani customs was on its way to Karachi.

In Afghanistan, Marcus Spade, a spokesman for the US forces, said 50 shipping containers had been moved into Pakistan over the weekend.

Another Pakistani official, who did not want to be named, said another convoy of containers was expected this week.

“It is a huge operation…many more containers will follow,” he said.

Pakistan will be a key route for the US to withdraw equipment from landlocked Afghanistan as it pulls out most of its troops by the end of 2014.

Pakistan closed the route for nearly seven months after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 of its soldiers in November 2011.

The route was reopened after the US apologized for the deaths.

Islamabad has linked the transit of US military cargo with certification that Washington will not transport any hazardous waste or radioactive material. The US is also engaged in talks with Kabul for a security pact that will allow the presence of some troops in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal.

The US currently has over 60,000 troops in the nearly 150,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

NATO will use Pakistani routes up to the end of 2015, a year beyond the deadline for withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan.

The US favors the use of the Pakistani route as it is cheaper and shorter than other routes through Central Asian states.

Sources said Peter Lavoy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, had discussed the withdrawal of US military equipment during a recent visit to Pakistan. –PTI