WASHINGTON - The United States said today it had stopped shipments of military equipment out of Afghanistan, citing the risk to truckers from protests along part of the route in neighboring Pakistan.
There have been anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pakistan in recent days calling for an end to the American drone program that targets militants. So U.S. officials said that they had ordered truckers under U.S. contract to park at holding areas inside Afghanistan temporarily to avoid going there.
Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said the order affects outgoing shipments that the military calls "retrograde cargo" - equipment and other goods being sent home from military units as their numbers are reduced in Afghanistan.
"We are aware protests have affected one of the primary commercial transit routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. "We have voluntarily halted U.S. shipments of retrograde cargo ... from Torkham Gate through Karachi to ensure the safety of the drivers contracted to move our equipment."
Many supplies coming into Afghanistan for use by remaining troops were long-ago redirected to alternate routes, going through other countries, due to previous problems with Pakistan.
"While we favor shipping cargo via Pakistan because of (lower) cost, we have built flexibility and redundancy into our overall system of air, sea and ground routes to transport cargo into and out of Afghanistan," Wright said.
CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have long been a sensitive subject, with officials regularly criticizing them in public as a violation of the country's sovereignty. The issue is more complicated, however, since the government is known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past.
Routes through Pakistan have been closed in the past. The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the U.S. apologized.