CHICAGO: With Pakistan continuing to send mixed signals about whether and when it would reopen supply routes to NATO, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to meet tomorrow with representatives of five countries who make the so-called Northern Routes into and out of Afghanistan possible.

Panetta “will meet tomorrow with five countries that support the northern distribution network to thank them, and to note the contributions of others, including Russia,” a senior defense official told Breaking Defense. The countries are: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters this morning he hopes for Pakistani commitments to provide NATO access to the much shorter supply routes but word here is that no one is holding their breath, even though Pakistan did allow supplies for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to transit their country on Friday. Of course, military supplies and stuff for an embassy are not quite the same types of cargo.

The U.S. recently won permission from the Northern Route countries to send non-lethal gear as well as wheeled armored vehicles to enter and leave Afghanistan. However, weapons must still be flown and that would include heavy weapons such as tanks. But the Pakistani routes carried about two-thirds of NATO equipment, clearly demonstrating their shorter distance.

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CHICAGO: Where do we find the money to pay for defense in a time of austerity and how do we leave Afghanistan gracefully. That sums up the two main threads of the second NATO summit held in America.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters this morning that this is a “crucial summit at a crucial time” for the 28-member alliance. Money will loom large as Europe’s slow-motion financial crisis continues and its governments begin to face fiscal crises as tax revenues dry up and economic growth continues at a tepid pace, at best. Rasmussen made the central role of funding very clear. Keep reading →

CHICAGO: Air shows and NATO summits deserve their own color coverage if only because they are often so much more interesting when viewed from the participant’s point of view, so here goes.

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am an unabashed Chicago lover and this summit looks, so far, to be good for Chicago. I was walking to the press hotel and a lady asked for directions to the street the hotel is on. She, of course, was a reporter. When I mentioned that I had grown up here, she said, “Lucky man. I’d never been here. Great city.” True, and now she and many of the other 1,500 journalists here are getting their first look at my kind of town. Keep reading →