Tajikistan ready to help US with Afghanistan supplies

DUSHANBE (AFP) - Tajikistan said Friday it was ready to allow US and NATO supplies for Afghanistan to transit its territory, after neighbouring Kyrgyzstan ordered the closure of a vital American airbase. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said after meeting the US ambassador that his country was ready to allow supplies including construction materials, medicines, fuel and water to transit its soil by road. "Tajikistan is ready to offer the United States and NATO countries help with the transit of humanitarian and commercial supplies to Afghanistan," he said in a statement. He said the supplies would be of a non-military nature and should be not just for the benefit of coalition forces. "They should be destined not only for the military but it is also important they are used for the reconstruction of Afghanistan," he added. US ambassador Tracey Ann Jacobson said the transit would take place by land and would employ a new bridge over the Panj river funded by Washington that opened in August 2007 and links the south of Tajikistan with Afghanistan. She said a delegation from the United States would soon come to Tajikistan to discuss the issue. Tajikistan, an impoverished former Soviet republic that is currently experiencing severe electricity shortages, has a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Afghanistan. The US has been seeking to increase the number of supply routes to Afghanistan, including in post-Soviet Central Asia, as extremist attacks have plagued the main transport corridor through Pakistan. But its ambitions were dealt a severe blow when the Kyrgyz president announced on a visit to Moscow that he would order the closure of the base. The Kyrgyz government said Friday the closure decision was final and it was now in talks with the Americans about when exactly it will be shut down. "The govt of Kyrgyzstan has taken its final decision about the closure of the American airbase," govt spokesman Aibek Sultangaziev told AFP. "The issue is now with parliament which must cancel the agreement on the base with the United States." The head of the Kyrgyz national security council, Adakhan Madumarov, also scotched US hopes of talks to change Bishkek's mind, saying there were "no negotiations with the American side over the bases." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the decision "regrettable" Thursday but said US operations in the region would continue to be effective. The closure of the base would strain US supply lines at a time when President Barack Obama is preparing to nearly double the 36,000-strong force in Afghanistan.

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