Archive for the 'Caucasus' Category



It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part III

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 11 months ago

From The Times of India:

The US is now less dependent on Pakistan for supply of cargo for its troops fighting al-Qaida and Taliban  militants in Afghanistan, a Congressional report said today, amid a standoff between Washington and Islamabad over supplies through the country.

The Senate committee report said that only 29% of the total Afghan cargo supply now goes through Pakistan; which about an year ago was nearly 50%.

Islamabad has closed the crucial Nato supply route from Pakistan after the November 26th airstrikes that killed 24 of its soldiers.

“An estimated 40% of all cargo transits the NDN (Northern Distribution Network), 31% is shipped by air, and the remaining 29% goes through Pakistan. An estimated 70% of cargo transiting the NDN enters Afghanistan via Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said.

Since 2009, the US has steadily increased traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a major logistical accomplishment.

According to US Transportation Command, close to 75 per cent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN, it said.

As a result of increasing dependence on NDN for supply of logistics and cargo to its troops in Afghanistan, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized that there was a need to build relationship with the Central Asia countries.

“Central Asia matters. Its countries are critical to the outcome in Afghanistan and play a vital role in regional stability. As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region,” Kerry said.

And of course, you heard about the need for this transition here before you heard about it anywhere else.  But there is a catch.  Kerry is right – Central Asia matters, but our lines of logistics now rely exclusively on routes through Central Asia and Russia (whereas I had recommended a logistics line 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).  The added benefit of such a logistics line would be increased spending, influence and authority in the region, a region heavy in oil and natural gas.

The Caucasus region matters too.  From The Jamestown Foundation:

The “disbalance of interests” (see EDM, December 15), favoring Russia over the United States in the South Caucasus, used to be offset by superior US resources, attractiveness and credibility. But that offset has diminished as US policy turned toward de-prioritizing this region (compared with the earlier level of Washington’s engagement). Lacking a strategy for the South Caucasus, the US has taken a back seat to Russia at least since 2008 in the negotiations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Washington had reduced its profile and role on this issue (and on South Caucasus regional security writ large) already during the second term of the Bush administration. It folded the Karabakh conflict portfolio into other portfolios within the State Department; it handled this issue through medium-level diplomats versus Russia’s top leaders; and it separated this issue from US regional strategy, which was itself fading out. Under the Obama administration, the policy drift grew more pronounced, with domestic politics distorting US diplomacy on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Takeaway point: “Lacking a Strategy.”  Read the whole report.  What other administration could pull off such a feat?  We have transitioned our logistics lines to the North (as I recommended almost three years ago), all the while alienating the Caucasus region in favor of Russian routes.  Meanwhile, while every other nation is preparing to cut and run from Afghanistan, including the U.K., Georgia is literally doubling down on its troop levels in Afghanistan.

What a strange world in which we live.  Georgia is begging to be our ally, assisting us in Afghanistan at their own peril, and we have the chance to increase U.S. authority and presence in the Caucasus, and choose instead to empower Russia.  Again, what other administration could pull off something like this?

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus

It’s Time To Engage the Caucasus Part II

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus Part II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

After discussing the recent disputations that have occurred between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Stephen Blank goes on to make recommendations for greater U.S. engagement in the Caucasus.

The U.S. has displayed indifference, or at least apathy, toward the situation. This needs to change. Armenia’s threats reflect the facts that NATO disregarded Armenia’s claims and that the OSCE, largely because of distrust between the U.S. and Russia, cannot bring itself to function as intended (i.e., as a mediator). But the threats also reflect the fact that behind most of the headlines, this has been a very good year for Azerbaijan in its international relations, particularly its energy diplomacy. As a result, Azerbaijan has become more strategically important to the West, including the U.S.

Baku has stood its ground with Moscow. While doubling gas exports to Russia, it signed a major deal with BP to develop new gas holdings off its shores, thus not only maintaining its energy independence, but also demonstrating the importance of the planned Nabucco pipeline to Europe. Azerbaijan has also visibly improved its relations with Turkmenistan, to the point where a Turkmen decision to send its gas to Europe through pipes traversing Azerbaijan is now quite conceivable. Further, Azerbaijan signed a four-party deal to build an Interconnector that will send Azeri gas through Georgia and the Black Sea en route to Romania and then Hungary. This deal enhances Azerbaijan’s importance to Southeastern Europe as a reliable supplier of oil and gas. Also in 2010, Azerbaijan improved its ties and signed an energy agreement with Turkey.

While these agreements cannot hide the fact that no progress was made on Nagorno-Karabakh — over 30 serious incidents occur daily on the “Line of Contact” there — they do show Azerbaijan’s growing importance to Europe and self-confidence in international affairs. Armenia, by contrast, has little to show for its efforts except continuing dependence upon Russia. For example, because of its refusal to negotiate with Azerbaijan, Armenia remains estranged from Turkey — a situation that decreases Armenia’s GDP by 15 percent. Recent reports show that Armenia ran weapons to Iran, something that will hardly endear it to the West.

Blank goes on to describe the disaster that would be open war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then concludes with this:

The 2008 Russo-Georgian War showed that even small wars in the Transcaucasus can have repercussions that far transcend the region. Failure to take an active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue not only cements Armenia’s dependence upon Moscow and estrangement from Turkey and Europe; it also undermines the success Azerbaijan has had in strengthening Europe’s position vis-à-vis Russia on energy security. Continued neglect of Azerbaijan, and of the Transcaucasus as a whole, can only erode U.S. standing and damage its credibility in the region, confirming Russia’s belief that the reset policy amounts to an acknowledgement of its right to a sphere of influence over the Commonwealth of Independent States. Under the circumstances, the ongoing failure of the U.S. to play an active role here makes no sense at all — and worse, encourages the drift to war.

I had initially advocated engagement of the Caucasus region for at least two purposes, namely logistics (as an alternative to the troublesome line of logistics through the Khyber region or the increasingly troublesome Chamen area), and as a barrier to Russian assertion of influence in what it considers its “near abroad.”

Hidden, or perhaps simply assumed in my prose, was the understanding that the Caucasus region is oil and natural gas rich.  Blank recognizes that the Caucasus is strategically important due not only to its oil and gas, but also as a potential way to blunt the force of Russian hegemony (or possible developing Russian hegemony).

So there are three good reasons to engage the Caucasus: (1) Oil and gas, (2) as a barrier to Russian influence (see Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy for as discussion of Russian basing rights and logistics in Armenia), and (3) as an already-proven line of logistics to Afghanistan in lieu of Pakistan.  Actually, as Stephen Blank points out, in spite of the fear mongers who believe that Georgia will drag us into a war with Russia, there is a fourth good reason to engage the Caucasus region: to prevent war from occurring.

I don’t hold out high hopes that the Obama administration will pursue engagement of the Caucasus, as I am not convinced that they care about any of the above justifications that we have offered.  However, Russia is not our friend, we still need logistics to Afghanistan, our automobiles and trucks still need to run in order to support our economy, and war between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a humanitarian disaster.

Prior: It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

At Nuclear Summit Obama Snubs an Ally

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

From Jackson Diehl:

Forty-seven world leaders are Barrack Obama’s guests in Washington Tuesday at the nuclear security summit. Obama is holding bilateral meetings with just twelve of them. That’s led to some awkward exclusions — and some unfortunate appearances, as well.

One of those left out was Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, who got a phone call from Obama last week instead of a meeting in Washington. His exclusion must have prompted broad smiles in Moscow, where Saakashvili is considered public enemy no. 1 — a leader whom Russia tried to topple by force in the summer of 2008. After all, Obama met with Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine and a friend of the Kremlin. And he is also meeting with the leaders of two of Georgia’s neighbors — Armenia and Turkey, both of which enjoy excellent relations with Russia.

So is anyone really surprised?  Each passing day of our Caucasus policy makes another Russian invasion of Georgia more likely.  Perhaps Obama’s previous assurances to Georgia ring hollow now?  And perhaps Georgia will rethink sending the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion, recently deployed to serve alongside the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province, to assist with the campaign in Afghanistan?

Prior:

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

The Coming War in the Caucasus

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Logistical Challenges for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

From The New York Times:

So many convoys loaded with American supplies came under insurgent attack in Pakistan last year that the United States military now tags each truck with a GPS device and keeps 24-hour watch by video feed at a military base in the United States. Last year the Taliban blew up a bridge near the pass, temporarily suspending the convoys.

“Hannibal trying to move over the Alps had a tremendous logistics burden, but it was nothing like the complexity we are dealing with now,” said Lt. Gen. William G. Webster, the commander of the United States Third Army, using one of the extravagant historical parallels that commanders have deployed for the occasion. He spoke at a military base in the Kuwaiti desert before a vast sandscape upon which were armored trucks that had been driven out of Iraq and were waiting to be junked, sent home or taken on to Kabul, Afghanistan.

The general is not moving elephants, but the scale and intricacy of the operation are staggering. The military says there are 3.1 million pieces of equipment in Iraq, from tanks to coffee makers, two-thirds of which are to leave the country. Of that, about half will go on to Afghanistan, where there are already severe strains on the system.

As I have pointed out an untold number of times, the standard route for supplies goes through the Pakistani port city of Karachi and ultimately through the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing (a small amount, i.e., ten percent, goes through Chaman to the Kandahar AO), and is subject to attacks on our lines of logistics.  But there is another experimental route.

Lines_of_Logistics

This is close to what I have recommended in It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus, except that the lines run through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan rather than across the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan (the reason isn’t clear, perhaps because of the human rights violations of the present regime in Turkmenistan and the unsavory characters with whom we would be dealing).  Dealing with unsavory characters is a part of the process in this region of the world, and we should be engaging all of the Caucasus region, including Turkmenistan.  Our preening moral outrage should be saved for the radical Mullahs in Iran and the way they treat their citizens.

Daniel Foster writing at NRO’s Corner updates us with this:

A Lt. Colonel in the Air Force e-mails me with this (unclassified) tidbit on the effect of the Kyrgyz unrest on allied operations inside Afghanistan:

For the last few months we have been flying MATV’s (the new, tougher MRAPs) into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan via commercial 747′s and transloading them onto C-17′s for delivery into Afghanistan (mainly Kandahar, Bagram and Camp Bastion).

Due to ‘civic unrest’ Manas AB is now temporarily shut down to flying ops. To say this puts a crimp in the ‘logistics hose’ is an understatement. If the new gov’t can’t be convinced to play ball re: Manas we will be ‘challenged’ to say the least. . . .[I]t is also a significant mil passenger hub . . . .

We have put significant effort into the procurement of rights at Manas Air Base; the unrest in the region is problematic for logistics, and may go to prove that the choice to place such effort on Manas was wrong-headed.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is still significantly to the East of Afghanistan, and landlocked and beholden to some extent to the good will of Russia.  The current administration’s fear of truly engaging Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan (this is the Russian “near-abroad”, and Russia has basing rights in Armenia) has prevented the full engagement of the region and the creation of more efficient and effective lines of logistics, and rights to additional air bases that could supply the campaign in Afghanistan.  But we’re giving up on even more than that.  We are neglecting to engage in very real force projection in this region of the world, and making sad events like another Russian invasion of Georgia more likely.

Prior:

Progress on Logistics Through Georgia?

Afghanistan Logistics: It Isn’t Too Late to do the Right Thing

Is it logistically possible to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?

The Logistical Cost of Being Deployed

Marines, Beasts and Water

More Attacks on Logistics Routes

Attack on Logistics Near Chaman

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan (in which I predicted the strategy of attacking lines of logistics through the Khyber Pass in March of 2008 – CENTCOM wasn’t listening).

The Coming War in the Caucasus

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

In It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus we described a potential logistics route through the Caucasus region in lieu of the problematic and troublesome Pakistan routes (especially through Khyber).  The recommended route involved transit 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.

In addition to this region being a potential viable alternative to Pakistan, we noted this region as being an up-and-coming economic power due in part to the massive quantities of energy buried beneath its soil.  The engagement of the Caucasus region would potentially lead not only to logistics routes, but political and energy partnership as well.  But the darker truth that accompanies this potential is that Russia is also interested.

Russia is interest for several reasons, including the fact that Russian bases in Armenia have no viable land resupply and logistics route except through Georgia.  Recent NATO exercises in Georgia infuriated the Russian administration, causing the Russian ambassador to say that “Differences between Russia and U.S. on a number of issues still persist. The most recent example is NATO maneuvers in Georgia. It disappoints us as it assures Georgian government that regardless of what it did towards Russia, it will gain NATO membership. Unfortunately, no lesson was drawn from August events,” referring to their 2008 invasion of Georgia.

This is the first admission of the real reason behind the invasion of Georgia, veiled though it was.  It was all about “lessons” for the U.S. and Georgia.  The most recent warnings are less veiled.

A Kremlin policy paper says international relations will be shaped by battles over energy resources, which may trigger military conflicts on Russia’s borders.

The National Security Strategy also said that Russia will seek an equal “partnership” with the United States, but named U.S. missile defense plans in Europe among top threats to the national security.

The document, which has been signed by President Dmitry Medvedev, listed top challenges to national security and outlined government priorities through 2020.

“The international policy in the long run will be focused on getting hold of energy sources, including in the Middle East, the Barents Sea shelf and other Arctic regions, the Caspian and Central Asia,” said the strategy paper that was posted on the presidential Security Council’s Web site.

“Amid competitive struggle for resources, attempts to use military force to solve emerging problems can’t be excluded,” it added. “The existing balance of forces near the borders of the Russian Federation and its allies can be violated.”

Medvedev’s predecessor Vladimir Putin, who is now Russia’s powerful prime minister, often accused the West in the past of trying to expand its clout in the ex-Soviet nations and push Russia out of its traditional sphere of influence. The Kremlin has fiercely opposed NATO’s plans to incorporate its ex-Soviet neighbors, Ukraine and Georgia.

Russia currently controls most natural gas export routes out of the former Soviet region, but that grip is coming under growing pressure from China and the West.

The European Union, which depends on Russia for about one-quarter of its gas needs, has sought alternate supply routes, including the prospective Nabucco pipeline that would carry the Caspian and Central Asian gas to Europe but skirt Russia.

Intensifying rivalry for influence in the ex-Soviet region fomented tensions and helped stage the ground for last August’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sits astride a key export pipeline carrying Caspian oil to Western markets.

The war erupted when the U.S.-allied Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili sent troops to regain control over the separatist province of South Ossetia, which had close links with Russia. After routing the Georgian army in five days of fighting, Russia recognized both South Ossetia and another Georgian rebel province of Abkhazia as independent nations and permanently stationed nearly 8,000 troops there.

President Barack Obama’s administration has sought to rebuild ties with Moscow, which plummeted to a post-Cold War low under his predecessor and focus on negotiating a new nuclear arms control deal. Medvedev and other Russian officials have hailed what they called the new administration’s constructive approach and voiced hope that Washington will drop plans to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic — a top irritant in U.S.-Russian relations.

Reflecting the Kremlin’s hope for better ties with Washington, the strategy paper said Russia will seek “equal and full-fledged strategic partnership with the United States on the basis of coinciding interests.”

But it warned that missile defense plans and prospects to develop space-based weapons remain a top threat to Russia’s security, and said Russia will seek to maintain a nuclear parity with the United States. However, it added that Russia’s policy will be pragmatic and will exclude a new arms race.

The Captain’s Journal has recommended engaging the Caucasus by means of friendship, assistance and special dispensation for business partnerships.  This remarkable admission by Russia, signed by Medvedev, directly admits that war is possible over energy.

The romantic notions of influence in its so-called near abroad has been dropped in favor of more honest but crass verbal bullying and threats, targeted at an administration which wants to press the “reset” button with them.  The team of Putin and Medvedev intend to bloat the cash flow directly into Russia in payment for energy, this very energy being extorted by force if necessary.

Given the predisposition of the current administration to negotiate, talk, bargain and expect only the best of our supposedly erstwhile enemies, it isn’t apparent that Georgia, the Ukraine and other regional countries have any hope of continued sovereignty as it currently exists.  If extortion and threats don’t pave the way towards a re-emergence of the old Soviet style government, then they have made their only other option clear.  War is coming to the Caucasus.

Prior:

Mutiny in Georgia

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

We have closely followed the implementation of the Taliban strategy (pointed out here at The Captain’s Journal one year ago and one half year before it began in earnest) to shut down lines of logistics via the Khyber region and through the Torkham Crossing.  The closing of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan has occurred due to entirely different reasons than enemy strategy.  Or has it?  Russia is asserting itself in what it considers to be its near abroad, and has essentially bribed the officials in Kyrgyzstan to close down the Manas Air Base.  This makes the U.S. utterly dependent on logistical lines that run through Russia to Central Asia.  Of course, this places the U.S. in a precarious position regarding membership of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, as well as missile programs in Poland and elsewhere.  If the U.S. is dependent on Russia for logistics, then it is much more likely that Russia will be able to assert itself in the region with U.S. weakness because of dependence on Russian cooperation for logistics.

For this reason The Captain’s Journal had recommended approximately two months ago that the U.S. work harder on a potential logistical lines 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.

If this line of supply came to pass, then this leaves the issue of refueling for air supply and transit through the region unaddressed, since this was the primary mission of the Manas Air Base.  Stephen Blank, professor at the US Army War College, has written that of the potential replacements for Manas, none appear to be viable.  But unaddressed in Blank’s commentary is the potential to base air support in either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan.

Returning to lines of logistical supply, as we recently reported, there are ongoing talks concerning the Caucasus region regarding the very routes we have discussed.  Furthermore, trial runs of supplies are ongoing to test these routes.

… the Air Force is working on contingency plans to move the tanker fleet to bases in the Persian Gulf if it loses basing rights to Manas.

The Azeri capital, Baku, is emerging as a leading candidate to substitute for Manas, should the Kyrgyz government refuse to reconsider its withdrawal of the basing rights.

American and Azeri officials said that the focus of the discussions on Monday and Tuesday was a surface route that would move supplies from the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea and overland to Baku, where they would cross the Caspian Sea to Aktau, Kazakhstan, and then overland across Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.

A second potential route would land cargo at the Caspian seaport of Turkmenbashi, in Turkmenistan, for transit into Afghanistan. Talks on supply routes have also been held with officials in Tajikistan, another neighbor to the north of Afghanistan.

One American official said the first “trial run” of cargo containers on the new route was conducted within the last two weeks, with shipments of lumber sent from Turkey to Georgia to Azerbaijan, and then onward toward Afghanistan.

So this report notes not one, but two potential lines of logistical supply over land, as well as the potential replacement of the Manas Air Base with Baku, Azerbaijan.  At this point it might be that the Russians backpedal on disallowing Manas to continue to function (thus the recent equivocation in the news), since U.S. involvement in the Caucasus (i.e., their near abroad) is the last thing they want.

But this logistical transit route is viable.  First to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is more developed than Turkmenistan, and is obviously the center of gravity of both of the potential logistical lines discussed above.  Baku would be almost ideal for an air base to support refueling operations for U.S. aircraft supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  Turkmenistan is far less developed, and the only viable route for supplies would go through Ashgabat from the port city of Turkmenbashi, and then South to Kandahar or East to Kabul.

Much ink has been spent spilled over the human rights record of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and both are undoubtedly repressive regimes, although there is evidence that Turkmenistan is slowly and gradually changing for the better.  There is also significant corruption in Turkmenistan.  But there is also indication that Turkmenistan is opening up to economic cooperation.  They have expressed an interest in becoming an associative partner in the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization), and have recently opened their air space to NATO supply flights to Afghanistan.

The U.S. has a history of moral preening when it comes to working with unsavory dictators and political regimes, but this preening must be put aside in favor of functionality and logistics.  Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have all expressed an interest in working with the U.S. to enable lines of logistical supply to Afghanistan.  This plan is, after all, what provided more than 40% of the supplies to Russian troops during their campaign.

Moreover, a stronger presence in the Caucasus region is in the interests of the U.S. in both the near and long term.  Stronger ties will serve to ensure continued supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, cement critical relations in this region and Central Asia, and provide a counterbalance to Russia’s increasing hegemony in their near abroad.  It is the right time and circumstances to engage the Caucasus.

Postscript: The Captain’s Journal thanks Mr. Bob King, Instructor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Leavenworth, for the encouragement to write this article.


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