WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has asked Congress to shift billions of dollars in the defense budget to pay for added fuel costs to ferry supplies to Afghanistan, at least for the time till Pakistan keeps its border for Nato convoys, US officials said Monday.
In a letter to congressional defense committees, the Pentagon requested “reprogramming” $8.2 billion in funds previously approved to finance more urgent priorities, officials said.
There were “some unanticipated costs that we just didn’t foresee,” spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters.
It remained unclear what programs in the defense budget would receive less funding as a result.
A large portion of the request was due to the costs “associated with the extended closure of the ground lines of communication” in Pakistan, Kirby said.
In November, Pakistan shut its border to NATO supply convoys bound for Afghanistan after a US air strike accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The Pentagon reportedly estimates an alternative network of northern supply routes through Central Asia has generated $2.1 billion in additional fuel costs compared to the shorter Pakistani route.
The request to shift funds was also needed to cover the cost of deploying an additional aircraft carrier to the Gulf region.
“Earlier this year, we did increase the carrier presence there,” said Kirby, with the US Navy moving from one to two aircraft carriers present in the area at all times.
The expanded naval deployment came amid rising tensions with Iran, which in December and January threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in response to increased international pressure over its nuclear program.
The US Air Force also had to pay for more “flying hours” partly related to the closure of the Pakistan routes, as the military has had to rely more on cargo aircraft to ferry in supplies to the US-led force in Afghanistan, officials said.
US continues work with Pakistan on GLOCs
The State Department on Monday said the United States continues to work with Pakistan on the issue of reopening the country’s key land routes that transport supplies into and out of landlocked Afghanistan.
Spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed that Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides held talks with Pakistani officials. The two countries, she said, have been talking on wide-ranging issues including working on supply lines, adding that “that work continues.”
“We don’t have anything in particular to announce today,” she said when asked if a deal is imminent on reopening the routes, closed by Islamabad about seven months ago.
The spokesperson also said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a telephonic call to new Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ” to wish him well in his new post.” In her call, Secretary Clinton also “noted that we want to continue our engagement and work through the issues ” the two countries still have, the spokesperson said.