WASHINGTON — A top US general said Tuesday he plans to visit Pakistan in 10 days for talks that he hopes will reopen the border to supply convoys for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The vital routes have been closed to trucks ferrying supplies to coalition forces since November, when US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani troops in a friendly fire incident that enraged Islamabad.
General James Mattis, who oversees US forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan as the head of Central Command, said that NATO had managed to keep supplies flowing to troops in Afghanistan by using routes on its northern border as well as deliveries by air.
But he said the roads through Pakistan were needed to carry out a scheduled US troop drawdown, which calls for reducing American forces from nearly 90,000 to 68,000 by the end of September.
"However, (for) the withdrawal out of Afghanistan we do need the ground lines of communication through Pakistan. As far as the status of that discussion, I will fly to Pakistan here in about 10 days and we'll reopen the discussion," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
American officials have expressed optimism that Pakistan will soon reopen the border once a parliamentary review of the US-Pakistan relationship is completed. Mattis said it should be finished by the time he arrives for talks.
Pakistani military leaders have "been waiting for the parliamentary process to be done and that's why there's been a bit of a delay here," he said.
Asked if he was optimistic about resolving the border blockade, Mattis said "yes."
Once it reopens the border, Pakistan is expected to impose a tax on NATO convoys carrying supplies shipped to its port in Karachi and trucked through its territory to landlocked Afghanistan.
The November 26 friendly-fire air strikes capped a disastrous year for the US-Pakistan alliance, which was already under serious strain from the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2 and the detention of a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in January 2011.
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