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U.K Officials Hold Central Asia Talks as Afghan Exit Looms

U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond held talks with Kazakh leaders as the military prepares for the withdrawal of personnel and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 along a northern route through central Asia.

Hammond and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev began negotiating a land-transit agreement in Kazakhstan, the British Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. He’ll move on to Uzbekistan today as officials plan visits to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

“It’s vital that we secure the supply lines we need to get our equipment home as combat operations finish,” Hammond said in the statement. The logistics operation will involve removing some 11,000 containers and 3,000 armored vehicles.

The visit came amid unrest in Afghanistan directed at U.S. and NATO troops this month following the burning of the Koran and other books by military personnel at Bagram air base, prompting an apology by President Barack Obama.

The U.K. has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan fighting under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the second-largest contingent behind the U.S. NATO member states aim to hand over security in Afghanistan by 2014.

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