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German Military Proposes New Afghan Rail Link

KABUL -- The German military is considering building a railway line in northern Afghanistan to ease transport of NATO supplies to the country and boost economic activity in the area, a German news magazine reported on August 30.

Apart from a short stretch from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan has almost no functioning railways, with less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) of track in the entire country. A number of railways leading towards Afghanistan stop short of the border.

The proposed 67 kilometers (42 mile) stretch would link the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif with the Uzbek town of Termez, where the German air force has a base, "Der Spiegel" magazine reported.

Germany currently has an agreement with Moscow permitting it to transport supplies via rail through Russia to Afghanistan. The new link would greatly ease supplies to Germany's biggest Afghan base at Mazar-i-Sharif.

The cost of the proposed railway has not been calculated but the military is hoping for financial contributions from Germany's development agency and from international organisations, stressing the economic benefits, "Spiegel" said.

The line would connect with an existing Soviet-built rail and road bridge crossing the Amu Darya River which separates the Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The bridge, built in 1982, was closed by the Taliban in 1997 after they took control of the area and was reopened in late 2001.

Germany has more than 3,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led force, mostly stationed in the north.

An Iranian-funded 200 kilometers (125 mile) railway has been under construction since 2006 linking Iran's western city of Mashad and Herat in western Afghanistan. Various proposals also exist to connect Pakistan by rail with Afghanistan in the east.