The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Following up on the recent attack on NATO supply lines through Khyber, another attack was recently launched, only this time the attackers didn’t need the winding passes of Khyber to conduct the mission.

Suspected Taliban militants early Saturday staged another attack against cargo terminals in northwestern Pakistan in the country’s restive tribal areas, destroying NATO supplies bound for neighboring Afghanistan, police said.

Military vehicles and food in 13 containers were thought to have been destroyed in the attacks outside the frontier city of Peshawar.

It follows at least five other attacks against NATO and U.S. supply lines in recent weeks.

Militants threw petrol bombs into the city’s World Logistic Terminal and the Al Faisal Terminal, police said. The terminal holds hundreds of supply containers as well as Hummer transport vehicles bound for Afghanistan.

Several containers were still burning by Saturday afternoon.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban have claimed credit for the attack and warned of more to come.  The recent work to find another line of supply into Afghanistan has yielded some significant fruit.

Nato plans to open a new supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia in the next eight weeks following a spate of attacks on its main lifeline through Pakistan this year, Nato and Russian sources have told The Times.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the former Soviet Central Asian states that lie between Russia and Afghanistan, have agreed in principle to the railway route and are working out the small print with Nato, the sources said.

“It’ll be weeks rather than months,” said one Nato official. “Two months max.”

The “Northern Corridor” is expected to be discussed at an informal meeting next week between Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato’s Secretary-General.

The breakthrough reflects Nato and US commanders’ growing concern about the attacks on their main supply line, which runs from the Pakistani port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Kabul and brings in 70 per cent of their supplies. The rest is either driven from Karachi via the border town of Chaman to southern Afghanistan – the Taleban’s heartland – or flown in at enormous expense in transport planes that are in short supply.

“We’re all increasingly concerned,” Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday. “But in that concern, we’ve worked pretty hard to develop options.”

The opening of the Northern Corridor also mirrors a gradual thaw in relations between Moscow and Nato, which plunged to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War after Russia’s brief war with Georgia in August.

However, Nato and the United States are simultaneously in talks on opening a third supply route through the secretive Central Asian state of Turkmenistan to prevent Russia from gaining a stranglehold on supplies to Afghanistan, the sources said. Non-lethal supplies, including fuel, would be shipped across the Black Sea to Georgia, driven to neighbouring Azerbaijan, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and then driven to the Afghan border.

The week-long journey along this “central route” would be longer and more expensive than those through Pakistan or Russia and would leave supplies vulnerable to political volatility in the Caucasus and Turkmenistan.

Yet, this alternative to direct reliance on Russia is smart and may prove to be quite attractive in the future should these “relations” we now have with Russia again turn sour.  Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev likely intend to push forward with engagement of what they consider to be their “near abroad,” including Georgia, the Ukraine, and other regional countries.

However, interestingly, this leaves us vulnerable yet again to Russian dispositions, even with the alternative supply route.  Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that a) kills the option of Russia as a logistical supply into Afghanistan, and b) saves Georgia as a supply route.  Thus far, we have maneuvered ourselves into the position of reliance on Russian good will.  These “thawed relations” might just turn critical should Russia decide again to flex its muscle in the region, making the U.S. decisions concerning Georgia determinative concerning our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

Are we willing to turn over Georgia (and maybe the Ukraine) to Russia in exchange for a line of supply into Afghanistan, or are we willing to defend and support Georgia for the preservation of democracy in the region and – paradoxically – the preservation of a line of supply to Afghanistan?  The upcoming administration has some hard choices, and it’s unlikely that negotiations will make much difference.  The burden will rest on decisions rather than talks.

Prior:

The Search for Alternate Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Large Scale Taliban Operations to Interdict Supply Lines

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan


You are currently reading "The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan", entry #1706 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Georgia,Khyber,Logistics,Pakistan and was published December 15th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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