- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. will sign a formal agreement Friday for a major new supply corridor into Afghanistan, moving to firm up alternate routes in the wake of increased convoy attacks and the loss of a base in Kyrgyszstan, defense officials said.

Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress Thursday that the military has found “decent alternatives” for the safe shipment of non-lethal goods, including three northern routes that weave through Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is among several nations that have recently told U.S. officials they would allow cargo to transit across their borders. The others are Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyszstan, which forced the U.S. move earlier this year by threatening to eject the American military from its Manas air base. It was not clear which have moved beyond verbal agreements to formal accords.

The push for additional routes became more critical in recent months as extremists escalated their attacks against convoys traveling through Pakistan.

Despite Kyrgyzstan’s threat in February to shut down the Manas base, the U.S. quietly improved its leasing offer to Kyrgyzstan. But a U.S. official said it appears unlikely that leaders there will have a change of heart.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations remain open, said planners have shifted attention to a web of alternative supply routes. The official said those options will likely become the permanent stand-ins for the Manas base.

Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee Thursday that about 1 percent of the roughly 3,600 containers that have moved through Pakistan’s Khyber Pass were damaged or destroyed because of the attacks and other mishaps.

In addition, he said that about 80 percent of the fuel for the military is now shipped in through northern routes instead of the rough terrain of the Khyber Pass. The U.S. also now flies in heavy equipment such as armored vehicles.

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Associated Press writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.

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