US, Uzbekistan close to Afghan transit deal-diplomat

Other News Materials 5 February 2009 17:51 (UTC +04:00)

The United States and Uzbekistan are close to a deal that would allow Washington to open a new supply route for its troops in Afghanistan, a Western diplomatic source in Kazakhstan said on Thursday.

The United States is looking for alternative supply routes to Afghanistan to decrease reliance on a route through Pakistan where militants have stepped up attacks on truck convoys, reported Reuters.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament will vote next week on whether to shut a U.S. air base which is an important staging post for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The move would set a tough challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama who plans to send more troops to boost NATO's military effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The railroad route through Uzbekistan is dubbed the Northern Distribution Network and runs through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

"With Russia and with Kazakhstan there is an agreement in place for the transportation of non-lethal, non-military supplies", said the diplomat, who asked not to be named as he did not want to make public remarks on the talk's progress.

"It's also almost in place with Uzbekistan. In principle they have said 'yes'."

The United States used to operate a military base in Uzbekistan to help operations in Afghanistan until 2005 when Tashkent evicted U.S. troops in a row over a crackdown by Uzbekistan's government on a protest in the town of Andizhan.

Relations have since gradually improved as Uzbekistan sought to end its isolation and avoid relying too much on Russia. Last year it allowed U.S. military personnel to use a German air base there.

The new Uzbek supply route, expected to transit cargo such as building materials, food, medicines and water, is attractive because it could also be cut short by sending shipments across the Caspian Sea.

The United States has said it may start stocking up on some of the supply items in Kazakhstan to streamline operations.