"We will take advantage of all transport routes available as soon as possible," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said on Friday.

By allowing convoys to move through its territory, Russia has indicateled that it is willing to indirectly support the Nato mission.

Russian concern

In recent years, Russia has become concerned that instability in Afghanistan could pose a threat to its security interests.  

"The Central Asian states and Russia are playing a key role both in terms of ground transportation and overflights," Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said.

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"It is substantial".

Russia had offered to open its territory to Nato two years ago, but the alliance did not immediately pursue the offer.

There are two other possible routes into Afghanistan: through Iran and China.

Nato cannot ship supplies through Iran's southeastern port of Chahar Bahar due to the political dispute over Iran's nuclear programme.

The Chinese route, through the Wakhan Corridor, is not practical because the dirt road is blocked by snow for much of the year.

Previously, individual countries in the Nato alliance including Germany and the US, were allowed to use the the alternative route through Russia and Central Asia.

About 14,000 maritime containers full of supplies had arrived via the northern route before it was opened to the whole alliance, Gates said.

Taliban attacks

The Taliban destroyed more than 70 containers in a convoy loaded with Nato vehicles and military equipment in Pakistan on Wednesday.

Azzam Tariq, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, has since claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed seven people and injured 40 others.

Tariq told Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, that his group would continue to attack convoys mean for Nato forces.

Up to 75 per cent of Nato's non-lethal war materials, including food, medical supplies and construction materials, are currently moved into Afghanistan through Pakistan.