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CIS: Russia allows US troops, arms transit to Afghanistan

Tue Jul 7 03:40:33 EST 2009

MOSCOW, July 6 AFP - Russia has authorised the use of its airspace for the transit of US troops and arms to Afghanistan, according to an agreement announced on Monday during US president Barack Obama's visit to Moscow.

The deal permits up to 4,500 military flights per year, or about 12 per day, which can be loaded with troops, firearms, ammunition, military vehicles and spare parts, a senior US official said.

The official said the military flights would not be charged air navigation fees and that they would not stop on Russian territory.

Previously Russia had allowed the United States to ship only non-lethal military supplies across its territory by train.

The agreement marks a victory for Obama as he seeks to step up the faltering campaign against the Taliban as well as "reset" relations with Russia that were badly strained under his predecessor, George W Bush.

The White House said in a statement that the agreement would bring annual savings of $US133 million ($A167 million) in fuel, maintenance and transportation costs.

"This agreement will enable the US to further diversify the crucial transportation routes used to move troops and critical equipment to resupply international forces in Afghanistan," the statement said.

The need to diversify transit routes has become more acute in recent months because of instability in Pakistan, which currently serves as the main transit route into Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of international troops are in Afghanistan struggling to put down a tenacious Taliban insurgency.

Since his inauguration in January, Obama has sent thousands more US troops to the country in a bid to crush the Taliban and al-Qaeda, making the campaign there a central element of his administration's foreign policy.