The United States wants to significantly expand traffic on the Northern Distribution Network, the rail, road and air network that ferries supplies across Central Asia to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. As Pentagon planners and commercial carriers contemplate their transit options, attention is focusing on Turkmenistan.
The Pentagon reportedly intends to ship 75 percent of all non-military cargo destined for Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) by the end of 2011. Just a year ago, NDN was handling 35 percent of Afghan-bound supplies, and its share is presently about 50 percent. US military officers met with commercial shippers in late-January to discuss ways to rapidly increase the volume on the NDN. Pakistan for years served as the primary US conduit for supplies headed to Afghanistan, but that route of late has become increasingly vulnerable to Islamic militant attacks.
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Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.