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Americans find new routes to Afghanstan

RUSSIA and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies through to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington's dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan, a top US commander said.

Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the US-led invasion.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani army said on Tuesday that it had killed 60 militants in a stepped-up offensive close to the Afghan border, a lawless region considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. Washington has long urged Islamabad to take the fight to the insurgents sheltering there.

US and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their "non-lethal" supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that traverse Pakistan.

The main road through the Khyber Pass in the northwest of the country has occasionally been closed in recent months due to rising attacks.

US Central Command chief General David Petraeus said America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states in the past week.

Analysts say the United States' dependence on Pakistani supply routes means it has little leverage to push Islamabad too hard on issues of bilateral concern, such as the campaign against al-Qaida.

US officials have said one likely new route is overland from Russia through Kazakhstan and on through Uzbekistan using trucks and trains. Another possible route is through Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea to the Kazakh port of Aktau and then through Uzbekistan.

Few analysts expect Washington to abandon the Pakistan routes altogether as they are the shortest and cheapest lines.


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