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December 20, 2013

Protests may make U.S. fly out war cargo

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials, frustrated that hundreds of military shipments heading out of Afghanistan have been stopped on the land route through Pakistan because of anti-American protests, face the possibility of flying out equipment at an additional cost of $1 billion.

More than a week after Pakistani officials promised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that they would take “immediate action” to resolve the problem, dozens of protesters are still gathering on the busy overland route, posing a security threat to convoys carrying U.S. military equipment out of the war zone.

U.S. officials said Wednesday they have seen no effort by the Pakistanis to stop the protests, which prompted the U.S. three weeks ago to halt NATO cargo shipments going through the Torkham border crossing and toward the port city of Karachi.

A Pakistani official said the government is looking for a peaceful settlement but notes that citizens have the right to protest nonviolently.

U.S. officials said flying the military equipment out of Afghanistan to a port will cost five to seven times as much as it does to truck it through Pakistan. About a hundred trucks are stacked up at the border, and hundreds more are loaded and stalled in compounds.

The shipments consist largely of military equipment that is no longer needed. Sending the cargo out through the normal Pakistan routes will cost about $5 billion through the end of next year, said a defense official. Flying the heavy equipment, including armored vehicles, out of Afghanistan to ports in the Middle East, where it would be loaded onto ships, would cost about $6 billion if it continued through next year, the official said .

A northern supply route was used for about seven months last year when Pakistan shut down the southern passages after U.S. airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. That northern route, however, was used primarily to bring shipments into Afghanistan, and is much longer and more costly.

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