The US was set to open a new 4,000 km-long supply line to its forces in Afghanistan Wednesday with the planned departure of a freight train carrying US military supplies from the Latvian capital, Riga.
The precise departure date has not been made public, but the first trainload will leave within hours or days rather than weeks, according to unofficial sources and local media speculation.
The 100-wagon train contains only "non-lethal commercial goods" according to Bruce Rogers of the US embassy in Riga, who agreed the shipment terms after a meeting with Latvian president Valdis Zatlers Feb 11.
Supplies will be shipped via the Baltic Sea to Riga port and transported onward by rail to Afghanistan via Russia and central Asia. If the route proves successful, the frequency might be increased to up to 30 trains per week, Rogers said.
Latvia is a NATO member and has a contingent of troops serving alongside other foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has ruled out the possibility that military hardware might be included in trains crossing Russian territory.
The US has been seeking new supply routes after the Kyrgyz parliament voted to close the Manas air base used by the US military.
Opening the lengthy supply line from the Baltic is likely to become even more important after US President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan Tuesday in a bid to quell a Taliban-led insurgency.