WASHINGTON | Pakistan’s decision to reopen ground supply routes on its border with Afghanistan will allow the Defense Department to save tens of millions of dollars transporting material in and out of Afghanistan, a senior Pentagon spokesman said here Jul. 5.
Navy Capt. John Kirby said officials estimate that use of the reopened routes will save $70 million to $100 million per month.
Kirby noted that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had told Congress that since Pakistan had closed the routes in November, resupplying forces in Afghanistan had been costing the United States about $100 million more per month than before the closure.
“Secretary Panetta fully supports the approach that was taken, and the discussions that were had,” Kirby said. “He welcomes the decision by Pakistan to open the gates.”
Pakistan closed the supply routes after a Nov. 26, 2011, incident in which American troops came under fire from Pakistan. U.S. forces returned fire and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan responded by closing the main overland supply routes for U.S. and NATO forces into Afghanistan.
U.S. logistics specialists quickly shifted to other means, such as the Northern Distribution Network, to supply the forces. However, DOD officials have noted the routes through Pakistan are considered the most direct and most cost-effective.
“The Defense Department, immediately after the incident in November, expressed our regrets and condolences over it [and] acknowledged the mistakes we’ve made, and we’re sorry for those mistakes,” Kirby told reporters yesterday.
He added that although the Pakistani ground supply routes are cheaper, coalition forces will continue to use the Northern Distribution Network as well.
“The Northern Distribution Network is still a viable, vital method through which logistics flow in and out of Afghanistan,” Kirby said. “One of the things that we’re looking at, more [now] than we were in November when the [Pakistani ground supply routes] closed, was retrograde -- the need to get material out of Afghanistan. So the Northern Distribution Network will still remain vital as we move forward.”
Kirby said traffic has started to flow through the Pakistan ground gates, and that the same agreement in place before the closure still applies.
“The same arrangement we had using the ground gates before they closed are in existence now,” he said. “There’s been no change to those agreements.” No lethal material is permitted to flow through the ground lines of communication, he added, unless it is designed and designated solely for the Afghan national security forces.
Kirby said the United States and Pakistan continue to work to “get this relationship on better footing.”
“My sense is this was just a series of a lot of discussions and negotiations, and [a] concerted effort by both sides to move past this and to get the relationship into a better place [as we] start to look at the common challenges in the region,” he said.
Kirby re-emphasized the practical benefits and cost-effectiveness of moving logistics through Pakistan’s ground supply routes.
“We’ve always said moving things through the ground gates is cheaper and more expedient,” he said. “Because we have that open to us now, it will save money.”