U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down the prospect that Pakistan might close NATO’s supply routes into Afghanistan after the Trump administration said it would suspend military aid to Islamabad.
Alliance forces rely on Pakistani roads to haul supplies to landlocked Afghanistan. Pakistan closed them once before, after a 2011 U.S. airstrike killed two dozen of its soldiers.
“No, I’m not concerned,” Mattis told reporters on Friday at the Pentagon when asked about the prospect of Pakistan shutting down what the military calls Ground Lines of Communication, or GLOCs.
The Trump administration on Thursday announced its intention to suspend an estimated $1 billion in military aid to Pakistan due to years of “lies & deceit.” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif retorted that the U.S. was “a friend who always betrays.”
Mattis said Friday he has not seen any indication from Islamabad that it would shut military supply routes. Military leaders from the U.S. and Pakistan are still talking to one another, he said, citing a Thursday conversation between Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of the Pakistan Army staff.
“Obviously, we’ll continue talking with one another as we are at all times,” Mattis said. “We’ll continue to coordinate this…this is going to take time.”
If the overland routes are closed, the U.S. would need to haul supplies in by cargo plane, a much more costly method. In 2008, NATO established a mix of ground and sea routes called the Northern Distribution Network, which ran through Russia and other countries.
U.S. officials have previously said that the United States pays Pakistan between $1,500 to $1,800 for each truck that travels between the port in Karachi and Afghanistan. In 2012, when there were far more NATO forces in Afghanistan, that totaled about $1 million per day.