So, how will US troops come home from Afghanistan? According to Baku officials, by catching a train in Azerbaijan.
To borrow from American journalist H.L. Mencken’s line, war, like love, is easy to begin, but hard to end, and the 2014 NATO pullout from Afghanistan is likely to be a logistical nightmare, with thousands of troops to transport and scads of guns to pack and ship.
But worry not: Azerbaijan, NATO’s Caspian-Sea chum, is offering a cheap ticket home for American and other troops via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, scheduled for completion in 2014.
If it all goes as planned, troops from Georgia, the largest non-member troop contributor to the NATO campaign, can get off midway.
“Our country has provided all the necessary infrastructure for the troop withdrawal and can offer more,” Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov assured participants at a December 5 NATO pow-wow in Brussels.
To date, 35 percent of the “non-lethal” military supplies for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan went through Azerbaijan, Mammadyarov stated.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railroad, constructed by NATO-friendly Azerbaijan, NATO-aspiring Georgia and NATO member Turkey, was presented to the Alliance last month by envoys of the three countries. The presentation included other existing and upcoming sea, air and land transport infrastructure.
With an eye on commercial strategy, Baku has long promoted the railway as another key link between East and West. But, also, conceivably, it's trying to seize on a potentially prime opportunity for a return on its investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the project.
Moscow, which usually has something to say on most topics involving NATO and the South Caucasus, has not yet expressed itself on the notion of NATO troops merrily traveling home through two former Soviet republics.
Nor, for that matter, has NATO; at least, publicly. Maybe it's busy negotiating a group discount?