Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 9 months ago

“Clearly, logistics is the hard part of fighting a war.”
– Lt. Gen. E. T. Cook, USMC, November 1990

“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.”
– Gen. George S. Patton, USA

“Bitter experience in war has taught the maxim that the art of war is the art of the logistically feasible.”
– ADM Hyman Rickover, USN

“There is nothing more common than to find considerations of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war.”
– Carl von Clausevitz

“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…”
– Sun Tzu

From Logistics quotes.

When considering U.S. and ISAF casualties in Afghanistan it’s too easy to miss the private security contractors – indigenous Afghans – who are working for NATO to ensure lines of supply to the forces. The contractors killed while on duty protecting supply lines numbers at least in the hundreds, and possibly into the thousands (when considering the unlicensed contractors).

In his compound, a stack of empty coffins sits ready for the next victims.

“Every day, we have seen our men wounded and killed,” the teenager said.

Mr. Mohammed does not belong to any military or police organization. He is part of Afghanistan’s growing private army: security contractors who fill the gaps in the foreign military and development mission here, protecting diplomats, aid workers, outposts and the all-important convoys.

To satisfy the voracious appetite of thousands of NATO troops for food, fuel and other supplies, hundreds of trucks a week must traverse highways that more and more are rife with insurgents.

Afghans, often unable to make a decent living any other way, are paying a hefty price to try to ensure the goods arrive intact, regularly living out scenes straight out of a Mad Max movie.

“Since I took this job four or five years ago, I have lost 500 men,” said Mohammed Salim, a leader with Rozi Mohammed’s employer, Commando Security.

The legions of untrained, largely unregulated hired guns also have been accused of adding to the country’s lawlessness, an issue that recently hit home for Canada. Before a partial government crackdown a year or so ago, private soldiers were often involved in kidnappings and robberies, said a Kandahar-based security expert with an international agency.

This August, a detail of guards with a logistics convoy started shooting wildly when they came under Taliban fire west of Kandahar city, and a Canadian soldier on patrol in between was killed.

The Canadian Forces, which hires private security to guard some of its own bases, later cleared the contractors of any blame in the death, saying the fatal shot was from the Taliban. Private guards are a necessity of life here, a spokesman says.

“We do consider them to be part of the environment we operate in,” said Major Jay Janzen, a Forces spokesman. “They do provide an important contribution to the mission.”

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal already know our position on the exclusive use of special operations forces (see The Cult of Special Forces) and high value targets (see High Value Target Initiative). The U.S. has treated the effort as a counterterrorism campaign rather than a counterinsurgency, and thus we have failed for more than six years to bring security to the Afghan countryside.

The malaise can be blamed on anything or any group – drug lords, Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban, criminals, tribes – it makes no difference. Regardless of the reasons for it, without the presence of forces security will not be brought to the population.

In response to the malaise of the campaign, one potential solution being weighed is making it more of a special operations forces high value target initiative. But it is jackass-ery in the superlative to believe that more of the same failed approach will bring anything but more failure.

In fact, the problem as we have discussed above now goes beyond security for the population. The situation is degrading to the point that the very strategy may turn on itself and prevent progress. An Army cannot wage war without logistics, and the lack of security along Highway 1 in Afghanistan (what Asia Times calls the Highway to Hell) means that the entire countryside is the territory of the Taliban.

AFP gives us another look at French troops who struggle with the same problems in their AO.

FORWARD BASE NIJRAB, Afghanistan (AFP) — A logistics convoy has just pulled into Forward Base Nijrab, the latest of about 700 since June to make the perilous three-hour journey from the Afghan capital.

The road that snakes through the mountains from Kabul is a rude test of both truck axles and the soldiers’ mettle.

“This is nothing like Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon or Chad. In Afghanistan, the danger is constant,” says the French sergeant major who led the mission and is only permitted by the military to give his first name, Pascal.

About 60 kilometres (37 miles) of treacherous road separates NATO’s Camp Warehouse in Kabul from this fortified base in Kapisa to the northeast. Not far from here, 10 French soldiers were killed in an insurgent ambush in August.

Convoys supplying the more than 60,000 international troops in Afghanistan, helping in the fight against the Taliban, are regularly attacked, looted and torched.

“The main danger for a logistics convoy is the IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” Pascal says.

Most of the roughly 230 international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year have died in bombings.

Nineteen vehicles in a convoy for US troops were torched in southern Zabul province at the weekend by men who claimed to be from the Taliban, police said. The guards escaped and there were reports they had assisted in the attack.

“In Bosnia, we would leave with 35 or 40 lorries with four or five armoured vehicles. Here it is the opposite — we have four lorries for 16 armoured vehicles,” says the sergeant major.

At the end of August, a logistics convoy was hit between Nijrab and Tagab, another French forward base in Kapisa province.

Not only does logistics dictate what can and can’t be done, it is the surest indicator of security, better than any SITREP. Pushing more SOF into a campaign that has thus far spent its efforts on finding high value targets only to find more high value targets will come to an end when supplies can no longer get to the SOF because the high value target initiative doesn’t work. Hopefully, we’ll figure it out before then.


Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Degrading Security in Afghanistan Causes Supply and Contractor Problems

Postscript: To the great dismay and surprise of The Captain’s Journal, until now there is no Logistics category. This will be the inaugural post.

You are currently reading "Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan", entry #1422 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Logistics and was published October 27th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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