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NATO Strikes Overland Central Asia Transport Deals

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
NATO says it has concluded agreements with three Central Asian states to repatriate vehicles and other military equipment from Afghanistan through their territories.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the agreements in Brussels after weeks of negotiations with the governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

"We also reached agreement on reverse transit from Afghanistan with three Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan," Rasmussen said. "These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need."

The deals will allow the alliance to bypass Pakistan, which shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan in November after coalition air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts.

The pacts will enable NATO to ship back equipment to Europe through an overland route, as the alliance already has a transport agreement with Russia.

Moscow has also offered to set up a transit center at the air base in Ulyanovsk, 900 kilometers east of the Russian capital.

NATO plans to hand over security control of Afghanistan to Afghan troops in 2013 and withdraw most coalition forces by the end of 2014.

The alliance, meanwhile, continues to press Pakistan to reopen the blocked supply link, which is significantly shorter and cheaper than its northern alternative.

A NATO summit in Chicago last month ended without a deal on the Pakistani supply lines.

Rasmussen voiced hope that a solution would be found "in the very near future."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in an interview published on June 4 that the reopening of the supply route was contingent on the United States apologizing for the deadly air raid on Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan has long condemned Washington's use of unmanned drones to target militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal area, a program U.S. President Barrack Obama has accelerated.

Islamabad on June 4 called the attacks "illegal" and said they violated the country's sovereignty.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

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