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Work Continues to Re-Open Torkham Gate

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2010 – U.S. officials and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are working with the Pakistani government to re-open the Torkham Gate crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today at a Pentagon news briefing.

 "We have been given indications that we are making progress on that front and hope to have the gate reopened as soon as possible," Morrell said.

The gate closing does not affect coalition operations in Afghanistan, he said. Fuel for ISAF flows through the gate from the port at Karachi to Afghanistan. Still the coalition has supplies coming in from other access points in Pakistan, via air from Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and through the Northern Supply Route.

"Thus far, even with the closure of the Torkham Gate, which is an important route for us, it has not in any way adversely impacted our ability to supply our forces," Morrell said.

Pakistan’s military closed the crossing at Torkham Gate along its northwestern border with Afghanistan after U.S. helicopters unknowingly killed several Pakistani border guards Sept. 30. The incident escalated tensions over civilian casualties along the border, prompting the closure.

Pakistani Taliban have attacked tank trucks carrying fuel in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and the coalition has had to live with such attacks for years, Morrell said.

“They are sometimes sensational, and they are sometimes horrific, and they are sometimes deadly, and that is tragic,” he said. “But if you put this in context and in perspective, we’re talking about … impacting about 1 percent of the supplies that we funnel through Pakistan into Afghanistan. So they have never really adversely impacted our ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan.”

It is in Pakistan’s interest to open the gate and ensure security for convoys bringing supplies to Afghanistan, the press secretary said.

“This is a huge commercial enterprise for them, and they do not get paid until that fuel is delivered to the point of destination in Afghanistan,” he said. “So they have incentive to protect the convoys, to make sure that the situation is such that they can get to their destination safely.”

Pakistan has its own problems with terrorists, and the Pakistani government said they closed the Torkham Gate to protect the convoys. In the aftermath of an ISAF helicopter killing three Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers, Pakistani officials said they thought it best to shut down the gate, eliminating the possibility of attacks on convoys as they move through the narrow passage.

Morrell said the military-to-military relationship between the United States and Pakistan remains solid. The two militaries are engaged at almost every level with Pakistani officers and non-commissioned officers training in the United States. The Pakistani navy works in the Indian Ocean combating piracy and helps patrol and secure the Persian Gulf.

There are going to be setbacks in relations, but the conversations among U.S. and Pakistani military leaders continue, Morrell said, and both nations face the dangers of terrorism.

“There are terrorists who exist and operate and conduct operations in Pakistan as well as those who exist and operate and conduct operations in Afghanistan,” Morrell said. “That's why our strategy is about Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cannot divorce these two entities from one another. Obviously, we are able to maintain distinct bilateral relationships with each, but in terms of a terrorist problem, this is one we've collectively got to deal with.”

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