Is it logistically possible to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

Richard North at Defence of the Realm engages in a little gloating (and frustration as well).

Referring to the daily stream of truck convoys that bring supplies into the landlocked nation, Hilary Clinton said to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“You know, when we are so dependent upon long supply lines – as we are in Afghanistan, where everything has to be imported — it’s much more difficult than it was in Iraq, where we had Kuwait as a staging ground.

You offload a ship in Karachi. And by the time whatever it is – you know, muffins for our soldiers’ breakfast or anti-IED equipment – gets to where we’re headed, it goes through a lot of hands. And one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money. That has nothing to do with President Karzai.”

Yup! That’s precisely what we said on 3 September and then again on 13 September of this year , on the blog and in the Booker column …

As we pointed out – it is all done under a doctrine of “plausible deniability”. We do not pay the Taliban – oh no! But we build their payments into the contractors’ fees, which they then pass on, to ensure safe passage.

And well deserved gloating it is.  I will engage in a little myself.  And … much frustration.  One year and eight months ago I described the Taliban and al Qaeda strategy of interdiction of supply routes from the Pakistan port city of Karachi to the Khyber pass (and through the Torkham Crossing) or Chaman towards Kandahar (a smaller percentage of our supplies goes through Chaman than Khyber).  In fact, my Logistics category is well populated with studies of supply problems – larger scale through Pakistan, and smaller scale logistics to remote combat outposts in which the helicopter is king because we don’t own the roads and can’t ensure security.  It costs $400 to get a single gallon of gasoline to the Helmand Province.

Approximately one year ago I recommended an alternative logistics route, and nine months ago I concluded that it was time to engage the Caucasus in order to make this happen.  The proposed route: through the Caucasus region, specifically, from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, and from there into the Black Sea.  From the Black Sea the supplies would go through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From here the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.

Difficult?  Certainly.  Riddled with political problems and in need of security?  Sure.  But better than what we have with Pakistan if we had worked to make it happen.  Instead, we courted the Russians for a route through their territory, and thus far to no one’s surprise there has been precious little in the way of real cooperation or significant amounts of supplies going through Russia.

As if this issue has not been developing and growing for the last several years, senior Pentagon officials now face a dilemma.  Deploy additional troops, but supply those troops with currently unknown logistical routes.

The White House has settled on sending additional troops to Afghanistan, and now the Pentagon must grapple with another thorny problem: how to support them once they get there.

For Ashton Carter, the top Pentagon official in charge of weapons purchases, that has meant focusing on the concrete — literally. Basic materials for building bases are in short supply or nonexistent in Afghanistan, so U.S. officials must search for staples like concrete next door in Pakistan.

Another priority: Getting thousands of blast-resistant trucks from Oshkosh Corp.’s factory in Oshkosh, Wis., to U.S. forces in the Afghan hinterlands.

“At this phase, Afghanistan is a logistics war as much as any other kind of war,” said Mr. Carter, whose formal title is under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a recent interview.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has no modern infrastructure. Critical supplies such as fuel must be imported. The country is landlocked and has just three major overland routes. Enormous distances separate bases and outposts. High mountains and valleys, as well as extreme weather, make air travel difficult.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pushed the Pentagon to stay on a wartime footing rather than focus on preparing for future conflicts. Top officials have shifted their priorities.

“Everything is…more expensive, but that’s not really as much the issue as whether you can get it done at all,” Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Carter’s predecessor had a full plate dealing with defense-industry programs such as the $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter and the sprawling $200 billion Army modernization effort known as Future Combat Systems. Mr. Carter, by contrast, is entrenched in the minutiae of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as big weapons programs.

The author of the article, Mr. August Cole, makes excuses for the current administration in the last three paragraphs.  Busy, they are.  Finally focused on the details unlike their predecessors in the Bush administration who were focused on defense industry programs.  Except that this is a false narrative.  Obama’s defense team has been in place long enough to decipher the problems.  If a Milblog can pick up on the problems and alternatives, so can the DoD.

The Bush team failed in terms of setting up conditions for logistical success in Afghanistan.  But this doesn’t obviate or justify the current failure to plan for supplies.  The Bush team never planned for more troops in Afghanistan.  The Obama team did, and is just now stumbling over the most important element of any campaign – logistics.

Is it too late to engage the Caucasus?  Is it too late for the Obama team to start thinking ahead or at least reading the Milblogs?



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  • Warbucks

    What portion of our military logistical needs can not be delivered and maintained by a combination of air transportation? Surely there are some good studies on this matter available.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Not enough. The heavy equipment (MRAPs, etc.) must be delivered by ground transport. In fact, the majority of logistics is delivered by ground.

  • Warbucks

    So our army can not push a convoy of tanks, heavy equipment on truck beds, with fuel support vehicles all manned by US soldiers, with close air-support coverage, across the country quickly?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Quickly? How do you do it quickly when you don’t own the terrain? Roads are owned by the insurgents, and the rate of pace is measured in feet per hour in some places where IEDs are a problem.

    In Pakistan we cannot do anything at all. We rely in contract help, just as we do for most supplies in Afghanistan. My contention is that it would be easier and less expensive coming from the Caucasus and North than through Pakistan and the South.

  • Warbucks

    I’m trying to understand the scene. Are you reporting that we depend totally or almost so, on Pakistani truck drivers to transport US Army heavy equipment from Karachi, over land through Pakistan then to our assembly areas in Afghanistan?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Hmmm …

    Rich, I know you have been a loyal reader these past years, but I’m wondering where you’ve been on this. I have been harping on this for more than one and a half years now.

    I can’t recall the EXACT data, but somewhere between 75% and 85% of our logistics comes via roadway, from the port city of Karachi by Pakistani drivers, then to the Khyber pass (most of it, say 90% of the 85%) and some to Chaman (the other 10% of the 85%). The 15% to 25% of the total which comes NOT via roadway comes via air. Air shipment is VERY expensive compared to road, and the heavy equipment cannot come via air. HMMWVs have been ambushed and burned (and some stolen by the Pak Taliban).

    Rich, go back and read the logistics category. You might have missed the important points. We are almost entirely dependent on Pakistani truck drivers for our logistics. Welcome to Afghanistan.

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You are currently reading "Is it logistically possible to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?", entry #4332 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Department of Defense,Featured,Logistics,Obama Administration and was published December 14th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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