US to ship cross-Russia Afghan cargo via Lithuania
The United States has picked Lithuania as its latest transit hub to send supplies to international troops in Afghanistan via rail-freight across Russia, US and Lithuanian authorities said Thursday.
The US embassy in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius said that the Baltic port of Klaipeda had been chosen as Washington's latest shipping point.
The first shipment via Klaipeda of supplies destined for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is due next month, the embassy said in a statement.
"Shipments will continue as long as the operational requirement remains," it said. "Operational considerations will determine the size, frequency, and contents of cargo shipped through Lithuania."
Lithuania joins its fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia, whose ports have already been used by the United States to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan via Russia.
The rail-convoys have carried goods such as construction supplies, but not weapons or ammunition.
The decision to send supplies via Lithuania -- which like Estonia and Latvia won freedom from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined NATO in 2004 -- comes as Russia is considering expanding the transit of NATO cargo across its territory for Afghanistan.
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said the move was a crucial step for her nation of 3.3 million.
"US cargo transit will bring economic benefits to our country, and cooperation in this area will increase Lithuania's contribution to strengthening international security," Grybauskaite said in a statement.
Germany and Britain are already using Klaipeda port to support the Afghanistan mission, her office noted.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with a total population of 6.8 million and a professional military of 20,500, have all deployed troops in Afghanistan.
They have around 550 troops there, one of the largest contributions to NATO's 90,000-strong force in proportion to national size.
Attacks on supply lines across Pakistan have increased the need for new routes as NATO troops battle the Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan.
© 2010 AFP