US starts withdrawing military hardware

February 12, 2013 - 5:07:49 am

A container truck carrying supplies from Nato forces in Afghanistan crossing the Torkham border after entering Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD: Starting the first phase of its pullout from Afghanistan, the US has started moving its military hardware out of the country.

The first convoy of containers carrying US military equipment to Karachi for shipment has crossed the Torkham border, an official of the cargo company said yesterday.

According to him, his company, Bilal Associates, received clearance to move the US equipment across the border crossing on Friday. He said that the first convoy of nearly 25 containers cleared by Pakistani customs was expected to reach Karachi yesterday, while another was expected to arrive in Pakistan this week. “It is a huge operation, many more [containers] will follow,” he said.

The US plans to withdraw several thousand troops from war-torn Afghanistan this year and Nato has set 2014 as the deadline for a complete withdrawal. The US is engaged in talks with Kabul for a security pact to allow the presence of some troops in Afghanistan after the Nato withdrawal.

The US, which has more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of nearly 150,000-strong Nato operation, also plans to withdraw  its combat troops by 2014.

Top US military officials earlier said that they would need Pakistan’s support for their forces’ exit strategy and its land routes will be crucial for the withdrawal of troops and equipment. Last year, Pakistan allowed the US military cargo and non-containerised equipment to enter its territory via the Torkham and Chaman borders.

Pakistan linked the transit of the US military cargo at the time of withdrawal from Afghanistan with certification that Washington would not transport any hazardous waste or radioactive material.

When Pakistan announced the re-opening of Nato supply routes in July last year after then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressed ‘regret’ over the deaths of 26 Pakistani soldiers, the information minister disclosed that Pakistan will also facilitate the withdrawal of Nato  equipment.

The Nato will use Pakistani routes until the end of 2015  — one year beyond the deadline for the withdrawal of all combat forces. The agreement will be valid until December 31, 2015, and could be extended for one year.

A US source in Islamabad said that Pakistani route was considerably cheaper and shorter than the northern route.

“To get things from Kandahar and the east through the northern route is costly and extremely dangerous,” the source said.

“The Americans have also made strides in improving the northern route by making arrangements with the Russians and Central Asian countries to accept and assist in moving goods,” the source said, adding that one of the reasons that it will be more costly through the north was that it would require a great deal of movement by air.

“Which is more costly, at least that is to my understanding of the difficulties of the northern route. Pakistan is direct and cheaper.”

Sources say that a top US defence official and Pakistani military leaders recently discussed the withdrawal of the US military equipment. 

Dr Peter Lavoy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, had met Secretary of Defence Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, and other top officers.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, meanwhile, urged political parties to take a joint stance on holding talks with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,

The rebels had made a conditional offer for dialogue last week. 

He said that it was the federal government’s policy which had forced the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. He said that he had never blamed any party for its involvement in terror activists and only named Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (now Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat), Laskhar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Muhammad and Jaish-i-Muhammad. He said  elements behind terror acts in Karachi would soon be exposed.