KABUL – NATO would not oppose individual member nations making deals with Iran to supply their forces in Afghanistan as an alternative to using increasingly risky routes from Pakistan, the alliance’s top military commander said Monday.
Gen. John Craddock’s comments came just days after NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, urged the U.S. and other members of the Western military alliance to engage with Iran to combat Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
“Those would be national decisions. Nations should act in a manner that is consistent with their national interest and with their ability to resupply their forces,” Craddock, an American who is NATO’s supreme allied commander, told The Associated Press. “I think it is purely up to them.”
Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double its troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.
It also comes at a time when the main supply corridor through neighboring Pakistan is becoming increasingly dangerous as insurgents attack convoys that supply the foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Some political and military leaders have hinted at the need for closer cooperation with the government in Iran over the war in Afghanistan, where some 70,000 NATO and U.S. troops are currently trying to beat back the resurgent Taliban.
The United States has viewed Iran’s role in Afghanistan with suspicion, although the Islamic Republic has a long history of opposing Taliban rule.
U.S. officials have previously alleged that Iranian-made weapons and explosive devices were finding their way in the hands of insurgents in Afghanistan. But such criticism has been muted recently as President Barack Obama’s administration tries to set a new tone in relations with Iran.
Some experts suggest that nations with good relations with Iran such as France, Germany and Italy may try to set up an alternate supply route to western Afghanistan via Char Bahar, a port in southeastern Iran.
“NATO is looking at flexible, alternate routing. I think that is healthy,” Craddock said, when asked about the possibility of using Iranian territory for supply.
“Options are a good thing, choices are a good thing, flexibility in military operations is essential,” he said. “What nations will do is up to them,” he said, without elaborating.
Craddock’s comments came after U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said last month that America had struck deals with Russia and several Central Asian states close to or bordering Afghanistan to allow supplies to pass through their territory.
U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan get up to 75 percent of “non-lethal” supplies such as food, fuel and building materials from shipments that cross Pakistan.