WASHINGTON — Despite ongoing diplomatic tussles with Pakistan and the continued closure of land supply routes, U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan have all the food, fuel and ammo they need, the war’s top commander said Wednesday at the Pentagon.
Marine Gen. John Allen spoke to reporters two days after NATO leaders at a summit in Chicago agreed on a “road map” to wind down operations in Afghanistan.
One of the greatest challenges in stabilizing Afghanistan has been securing cooperation from Pakistan, which U.S. commanders say is used by insurgents as a safe haven. The relationship has been uneasy since the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. It reached rock bottom with Pakistan’s decision to close supply routes after a cross-border engagement with U.S. forces in November that killed about two dozen Pakistanis. But while the closure has been inconvenient, it hasn’t been insurmountable, Allen said.
“The closure of the ground lines of communications has had no impact on my campaign,” Marine Gen. John Allen said, adding that stocks are actually higher now than at the time of the firefight.
The Air Force worked to create what Allen called an “air bridge” that sustained the war while supply shipments ramped up through the Northern Distribution Network, a system of rail and road supply lines through central Asia. Allen admitted it costs twice as much to ship supplies through the northern route. Airlift, meanwhile, is many times more expensive than ground transportation.
On Wednesday, the same day a Senate panel voted to cut aid to the Pakistan, Allen said the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could be ready for a rebound.
“I think we’re actually poised to improve where we were,” he said, because officials from the two countries have begun face-to-face meetings again after months of little to no contact.
NATO leaders on Monday presented a plan to end the international combat mission in Afghanistan, giving Afghan troops the lead in all combat missions by mid-2013. U.S. and coalition troops would continue to back up the Afghans in combat and other operations until the end of 2014, bywhich time most will have withdrawn.
“We leave Chicago with a clear road map,” President Barack Obama said. “This alliance is committed to bring the war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.”
Allen said he was confident that once most U.S. forces were out, Afghan forces supported by U.S. advisors would hold the territorial gains made by U.S. troops in recent years.
“It is not our intention to cede ground to the Taliban,” he said.