WASHINGTON – Pakistan’s months-long blockade of NATO supply routes through its ports and roads into Afghanistan is incurring the US Defence Department more than $2.1 billion in extra transportation costs to move supplies and equipment in and out of the country, Defense News reported on Saturday.
The stunning revelation of the exorbitant cost comes as the Pentagon continues to negotiate with Islamabad to regain access to the supply routes, the weekly publication reported on its website. Islamabad closed the ground lines of communication in reaction to a cross-border US airstrike on Salala border posts that resulted in deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26, 2011.
Since then the US and NATO allies have been transporting supplies to the landlocked Afghanistan through a much longer and expensive Northern Distribution Network, that covers a series of roads through Russia and Central Asia states.
This month, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the closure of the Pakistani routes was costing the US military about an extra $100 million per month. On Friday, he said the United States and Pakistan continued to work in good faith towards restoration of key Pakistani routes, although some tough issues remain to be resolved.
The new transportation-related costs were disclosed in a Pentagon budget document – called the omnibus reprogramming request – sent to Congress on Friday. In the document, which is traditionally sent to lawmakers at the end of each June, DoD asks for permission to shift already appropriated money within its own accounts.
According to the Defence News report, the army asked Congress to shift $1.7 billion due to “shortfalls that resulted from increased fuel costs and continued closure of the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication”, the document states.
The other, that is the most expensive transport option, is to airlift supplies and equipment into Afghanistan.
The Defence News report said the Air Force has requested the transfer of $369.2 million of airlift, “partially due to the closure of the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication and the need for additional theater express support”, the document states. This increased airlift requirement in Afghanistan has taken its toll on the Boeing C-17. The Pentagon has asked Congress to shift $136.9 million to repair 21 C-17 engines, “due to increased wear and accelerated parts damage”, the document states.
The funding transfer request for supply transport is only part of the $7.9 billion reprogramming action, the report said.