Degrading Security in Afghanistan Causes Supply and Contractor Problems

BY Herschel Smith
11 years ago

In Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan four months ago we predicted that NATO supply lines would be a serious risk, particularly in the Khyber Pass and at the Torkham Crossing. Before long convoys of NATO supplies were targeted, and the Khyber Agency is under the control of the Taliban. But the strategy is not limited to Pakistan, and we’re seeing an even more aggressive campaign in Afghanistan.

Gulab Khan is constantly reminded of the danger of his job by the two round stickers he has used to cover bullet holes in the windscreen of the cab of his lorry, one of the thousands of trucks carrying diesel and jet fuel to Nato bases across Afghanistan.

“I believe it was the holy Koran, which I keep with me in the truck, that saved me from the bullets,” says Mr Shah as he recalls being attacked by insurgents last year on the dangerous run between Kabul and Kandahar airfield, a huge coalition military base in Afghanistan’s insurgent-ridden southern desert.

Despite the extra $2,500 (€1,648, £1,297) to be made on each load supplying the needs of Nato’s war machine in the south, he now restricts himself to less lucrative but far safer northern routes, delivering jet fuel in his rusty old Mercedes truck from Pakistan to Bagram airfield.

It is just as well for him, as this summer has seen an escalation in Taliban assaults on Nato supply lines with insurgents stepping up attacks on fuel ­convoys and the country’s roads.

Country managers at western security companies that hire out teams of armed Afghans and foreigners to protect convoys operating in the south say the situation has deteriorated sharply.

“In the summer months, I would expect to be attacked once or twice a week,” said one manager, unwilling to speak on the record.

“Last week, we were caught up in an attack on a convoy of fuel trucks on a road we are working on. It looked like a war zone, with five diesel tanks burst open by [rocket propelled grenades] and burning diesel flooding out over the road.”

The security companies are circumspect about how many tankers they lose, but he said “multiple dozens” have been lost in the south each month during the summer. In June, fighters set upon a convoy of more than 50 tankers, setting fire to them about 65km south of Kabul.

According to British officials in Lashkar Gar, the capital of Helmand province, the 10 largest fuel transport groups now have to spend a combined $2m a month on protecting the 5,000 trucks they operate. Kabul is now encouraging the companies to help fund its efforts to reclaim control over the road network.

The eastern provinces of Zabul and Ghazni have been particularly badly hit by attacks on bridges, with local officials saying they have lost four bridges and around 30 culverts in the past three months.

Matthew Leeming, a Kabul-based fuel trader, said it had become increasingly difficult to get convoys of essential goods through to more distant bases.

“The Taliban’s new tactics of blowing bridges between Kabul and Kandahar, forcing convoys to slow down and become softer targets, is causing severe problems to companies trying to supply Kandahar from Kabul,” he said.

Billions of international aid dollars have been spent on building a national road network, with the US Agency for International Development providing $260m for most of the Kabul-Kandahar link and Japan adding $34m for the rest. But the Afghan army and police have been unable to reclaim control of the roads from insurgents and criminal gangs who illegally tax traders who pass through their patches.

Passengers on civilian buses are routinely searched and killed if any evidence suggesting they work for the government or foreigners is found.

This report dovetails with a recent report at the Guardian concerning Afghan citizens fearful for their lives and begging for protection against the Taliban.

The company that provides services and logistics for the British army has come under fire for ignoring the increasing security needs of its local staff in Afghanistan as the Taliban steps up its attacks on army support employees.

Up to 400 Afghan staff working for KBR at the Camp Bastion base in Helmand, south Afghanistan, have been barred from joining flights to Kandahar and told they must travel by road – one of the most dangerous journeys in the country.

The Taliban is known to be targeting local staff who work for the British or US army as traitors, but this summer has seen an unprecedented number of attacks against caterers, mechanics and interpreters who all work at the base, with 10 staff being killed in July alone.

Ahmed (not his real name) said he was too scared to leave the base despite the fact that he had not seen his family for more than six months.

“My family does not know whether I am dead or alive. We are not allowed to use phones so I was looking forward to my holiday. But now I am too scared to leave because the Taliban are waiting just outside and I will get killed,” he said. He offered money to KBR to join any flight to Kandahar, he said, but was told it was not possible. “My boss said the flights are for priority staff only. It seems some human life is more valuable than others.”

One man, who only wanted to be known as Abdullah, said: “When we started here just over a year ago, the situation wasn’t as bad. But now the Taliban are increasing their attacks on us, we need the company to give us protection. I am speaking on behalf of all of us here in Bastion.” Abdullah said staff had voiced their security concerns to KBR several times. “When I signed up for the job, KBR promised to look after me and provide me security. But none of this has happened. They just threaten to sack us if we complain.”

The overarching strategy that won Iraq – security for the population -is completely absent in Afghanistan due to [a] lack of forces, and [b] lack of a comprehensive and consistent approach throughout NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan.

There are two independent testimonies from neutral witnesses in the accounts above that point to a rapidly degrading condition. The first was from Matthew Leeming, a Kabul-based fuel trader, who said it had become increasingly difficult to get convoys of essential goods through to more distant bases. The second is from an unnamed contractor who said that the Taliban were waiting just outside the FOB to kill collaborators.

Metrics, statistics, and official intelligence reports aside, the population has no security, and they are the best indicator of the conditions in the country. Without security, they will not side with NATO forces. They will side with the “stronger horse,” and thus we are losing Afghanistan back to the Taliban. More forces are needed, now and not later.


  1. On August 15, 2008 at 9:48 pm, Gary in Kabul said:

    Sir or Madam: Good article which highlights the true problem of how to deal with the Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries along the Afghan Pakistan border. The problem which I hope is being discussed in diplomatic circles is that the Durand Line Agreement of 1893 gave these international borders definition in the Age of Colonialism. The Durand Agreement expired in 1993 leaving NO OFFICIAL border between the two countries. The only way to solve this problem is to involve Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan in talks that will return these Tribal Regions to Afghanistan and also give them a seaport, which was usurped by the Durand Agreement. Enough said! Afghanistan and NATO could then clean up the Tribal Areas once and for all. Regards, G in Kabul

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