Archive for the 'Logistics' Category



The Logistical Magnitude of the Campaign in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

In what will not be read closely or widely enough, the Montgomery Advertiser gives us a view to the magnitude of the logistical problem that is campaign for Afghanistan.

Clouds of dust rise to meet a descending Blackhawk at Kan­dahar Airfield. Before the heli­copter’s wheels settle, the crew chief and gunner climb through windows just behind the pilots and begin urging soldiers to hustle on board.

Carrying heavy trunks and duffels, these men are destined for forward operating bases and combat outposts in the most ac­tive area of Afghanistan, Re­gional Command-South, which this summer recorded the high­est death toll since the war be­gan in 2002.

With an escort Blackhawk hovering nearby, the crew mem­bers urge the soldiers to strap in — ideally, the helicopters won’t be on the ground for more than a couple of minutes before they offload, onload and take off. When they do, the same red dust cloud chases the helicopter as it ascends, headed for the moun­tain range in the distance, then to parts unknown.

For each man on that Black­hawk, as well as any Chinook or cargo plane routing soldiers to their battle areas, one man is re­sponsible for the supplies that will support them in Afghanis­tan — Brig. Gen. Reynold Hoo­ver of the Alabama National Guard.

Hoover, commander of the joint sustainment command in Afghanistan and commander of the 135th sustainment com­mand (expeditionary), is in charge of supplies from food that fuels the troops’ nutritional needs to fuel that runs the mine-resistant MRAP vehicles that protect them from the constant threat of IEDs.

When the 135th took charge of the Joint Sustainment Com­mand on Dec. 28, 2009, it became the first one-star general com­mand from the Alabama Nation­al Guard since World War II. The task is daunting — deliver­ing supplies throughout a coun­try the size of Texas and thwart­ing Taliban attempts to destroy supply lines.

Hoover, who earned his mas­ter’s degree in public and pri­vate management from Bir­mingham-Southern College in 1992, has long held ties to Alaba­ma.

Since 1988, he has returned to Alabama for his once monthly Guard obligation. Since the 135th took command, it has de­livered more than 27.5 million pounds of mail, delivered 88 mil­lion meals and used enough fuel to drive a Honda Civic to the sun and back 68 times.

The 135th sustains approxi­mately 70,000 soldiers in Afgha­nistan and can deliver 504,000 bottles of water each week and more than 210,000 meals each day.

[ ... ]

“Movement is a challenge here. We’re in a landlocked country where we don’t control the road. But we’re determined for every trooper to have a hot meal and a canteen.”

Add to that the number of aircraft, both rotary and fixed wing, required to move troops and supplies, and what emerges is an incredible supply and de­mand — all controlled by the Alabama National Guard.

As regular readers know, infantry rules the battle space, while logistics rules everything else, including capability to support and sustain the infantry and air power, financial burden to deploy troops, the ability to conduct distributed operations, the geographical reach of the campaign, and the timeliness of battle space decisions and actions.

Besides the issues surrounding international logistical lines, there are the more immediate and localized logistical issues with which we must deal.  I continue to assert that IEDs are a problem (they are responsible for the majority of U.S. casualties) mainly because we haven’t deployed the troops necessary to find, chase and kill those responsible for building and planting them.

Technology and gizmos are slick and always demand the lion’s share of the defense dollars.  What we need are more Marines, more snipers, more door kicking, more census-taking and more biometrics.  We need to be in their face, in their homes, in their streets, in their markets, isolating the insurgents and destroying them – not putting them into the rotating “catch-and-release” prisons only to see them kill more U.S. servicemen.

And what would all of this gain us?  It’s an oddity to see a General make the following claim in public:     ” … we don’t control the road.”  Indeed.  Control the roads and we will begin to see the end of the insurgency.  No, not check points, not isolated patches of road, but control the roads.  All of them.  Beginning to end, front to back, top to bottom.  From the very beginning the Taliban strategy has been to target logistics, just as I said it would be.  Go after the perpetrators, not the IEDs.

Continued Logistical Problems for NATO Through Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

From The New York Times:

Armed militants attacked and set fire to at least 20 parked tanker trucks carrying fuel for NATO and American troops in Afghanistan on Monday, the police said. It was the third such strike in Pakistan  since Friday.

The attack, not far from the capital, Islamabad, took place on a supply line that has been stalled because of a temporary border closing imposed by the Pakistani authorities to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.

The border closing has exacerbated tensions between the United States and Pakistan but has been welcomed by Islamist groups opposed to Pakistan’s support of the American-led war in Afghanistan.

Umer Hayat, a police officer, said three people were killed in the latest burning of fuel trucks, for which he blamed terrorists.

The attackers opened fire on trucks parked at a poorly guarded terminal before setting them afire, he and other officers said.

The trucks were waiting to travel to the Torkham border crossing along the Khyber Pass, used to transport fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.

While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Most of the nonlethal supplies headed to the American-led war effort are transported over Pakistani soil from the port of Karachi in the south.

On Friday, a day after the closing of the Khyber Pass route to NATO and American traffic, there were two attacks on oil tankers headed to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for at least one of them and vowed to attack again.

It seems to me on deep reflection that I recommended that we engage the Caucasus region 1.5 years ago for purposes of logistics as well as other reasons.  Yes, I think I did.

You would think something as important as logistics in a land-locked country had been addressed and analyzed before.  Yes, I’m sure it has.  I very sure.  I’m very, very sure.  I’m certain it has.  I’m very certain.  I’m VERY, VERY CERTAIN.  It’s just that the idiots at the White House won’t listen to the Milbloggers.

And we discussed this again eight months ago, saying that it still wasn’t too late to do the right thing.  So I am still certain that I have addressed this issue, and I am still waiting for us to do the right thing.

So how is that alternate logistics route through the Caucasus region going?  You know, the one that avoids Pakistan, engages Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and flips the double barreled middle finger at Russia?

Logistical Challenges for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 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).

Progress on Logistics Through Georgia?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

There are more logistical problems in the Khyber region, just as I predicted two years ago.

Suspected Islamist militants armed with guns and rockets on Monday blew up a tanker carrying fuel through Pakistan for NATO troops based in neighbouring Afghanistan, police said.

Several armed men lobbed a rocket and then opened fire on the supply convoy on the outskirts of Pakistan’s northwestern city Peshawar, senior police officer Imtiaz Ahmed said.

“The attack triggered a huge fire and destroyed one tanker. Its driver escaped unhurt but his helper was wounded,” he said.

In a subsequent exchange of fire lasting up to an hour, Pakistani security forces killed a militant, another police officer Karim Khan said.

Police did not immediately identify the assailants, but the Taliban and members of local militant group Lashkar-e-Islam regularly attack NATO supply vehicles on the main route through northwest Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Islam is active in the lawless region of Khyber, which is just outside Peshawar and part of Pakistan’s tribal belt snaking along the Afghan border that Washington has branded the headquarters of Al-Qaeda leaders.

About 80 percent of supplies destined for the 121,000 US and NATO troops in landlocked Afghanistan pass through Pakistan.

Khyber_Attack

Are we making any progress on engagement of the Caucasus?

President Mikheil Saakashvili recently offered Georgia as a logistical hub for NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. This offer, made in an interview with The Associated Press, came only days after NATO had finalised a supply route agreement with Kazakhstan in the wake of NATO’s expanding mission in Afghanistan. While a supply route through Georgia already functions (for equipment, not armaments), U.S. officials have not immediately accepted Saakashvili’s new proposal. Russia might be in the way, analysts say.

Saakashvili offered Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi as docks for military supply ships and the country’s airports as refuelling points for cargo planes. AP quoted Pentagon officials as saying that the U.S. Defense Department was aware of Saakashvili’s offer, but had not explored the proposal.

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, has scheduled a visit to Georgia on February 21-22. He plans to meet Saakashvili and visit Georgian troops at the Krtsanisi National Training Centre and observe their training for the operation in Afghanistan. Reportedly, the issue of Georgia as a supply route for the war could also be on the table.

Georgia has already been utilised as a transit point for shipment of non-armaments. “The route to Afghanistan is already used extensively, because almost 80 percent of cargo which is not going through Pakistan is going through Georgia, and only 20 percent through Russia, already,” said Alexander Rondeli, President of GFSIS (the Georgian Foundation for Security in International Studies).

Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that the supply route to Afghanistan via Eurasia has been in existence since 2001. “I do not think this [Saakashvili’s offer] is something particularly remarkable because the U.S. is covering all the bases. It is shipping equipment, both lethal and non-lethal, via Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as via Georgia and Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia.

Oh good heavens – commit already.  To say that 80% of logistics that don’t flow through Pakistan already flow through the Caucasus is to say nothing.  Ninety percent of our logistics flow through Pakistan.  To say that Russia stands in the way is to reiterate what we all already know, i.e., that there are dangerous dictators who desire regional hegemony.  It is to say nothing.  Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation is a nice title for a man who needs to do better analysis work.  The U.S. has not covered all of the logistical bases when we are reliant on Karachi, Chaman and Khyber to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

There are attempts at better logistics, but this work bottlenecks in Khyber.  It’s still not too late to engage the Caucasus (including Georgia) like I recommended one year ago.

Afghanistan Logistics: It Isn’t Too Late To Do The Right Thing

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

There is more logistical trouble with the supply lines through Pakistan (lines which supply approximately 85% – 90% of our needs in Afghanistan).  The first report has to do with a bridge near Peshawar.

Suspected terrorists on Thursday blew up a bridge on a link road connecting Peshawar’s Badbher village to Khyber Agency’s Bara town, officials and locals said. A police official said the blast took place at around 1:30am. The bridge over the Frontier Road was blown up as police personnel travelled through the area, the official said, adding that the terrorists escaped the scene. He said that a search was being conducted to trace the perpetrators of the blast.

The second report pertains to a tanker attack near Peshawar.

Taliban blew up a tanker carrying oil supply to NATO forces in Afghanistan on the ring road in the Chamkani police precincts early on Monday, police said. Chamkani police officials told Daily Times that an Afghanistan-bound tanker carrying oil supply for NATO forces was attacked by armed men on Monday morning. They said the assailants fired at the tanker and destroyed it with a magnet bomb.

The third report is even more important for where it occurred – the port city of Karachi.

A NATO convoy came under assault Thursday while carrying supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan in a rare ambush inside Karachi, the relatively secure port city from which 300 to 400 of the coalition’s trucks leave each day.

Any assault on the Pakistani supply route is worrisome to the US-led forces in Afghanistan, who use it to ship three-quarters of their materials and will need it even more as the surge of 30,000 US troops progresses.

But the attack in Karachi – which is the commercial capital of Pakistan, and has largely escaped the bomb attacks troubling other major cities and the northwest – raises particular concern, especially if it marks the beginning of a trend.

From the beginning to end of the supply lines, logistics is under attack.  It still isn’t too late to do the right thing, and engage the Caucasus.

It’s all about the logistics

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

From The New York Times:

Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon’s slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials — among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff — and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

[ ... ]

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.

Other White House officials said to be frustrated by the deployment pace include Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, and Denis R. McDonough, the national security chief of staff. “Gates and Mullen made a clear statement that this would be achieved by summer’s end,” a senior administration official said, referring to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[ ... ]

Last month in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, did not back away from that schedule, but he told reporters of the difficulties he faced even in getting all the forces in by fall. He said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for troops from Pakistan and other countries presented substantial hurdles.

“There’s a lot of risks in here, but we’re going to try to get them in as fast as we can,” he said at the time. “There’s a lot of things that have to line up perfectly.”

On a visit to Afghanistan last month, Admiral Mullen pressed military logisticians on how they would be able to meet the schedule. But even Admiral Mullen, who said he was “reasonably confident” that the logistics would work out, acknowledged the tall order before the military, saying, “I want a plan B because life doesn’t always work out.”

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday that the military was moving as rapidly as it could and that reports of tension with the White House amounted to a “fabricated and contrived controversy.” Mr. Morrell said that “the preponderance of the forces will be there by the middle of the summer and we are moving heaven and earth to get all of them there by the end of the summer.” He added that the Pentagon anticipated “that 92 percent of them will be there by the end of August and we hope to even improve upon that.”

But military officials acknowledged that they were taken aback by the president’s initial insistence that the troops be in place within six months. Last fall, military officials repeatedly said that it would take as long as a year to 18 months for all the troops to be in place.

You would think something as important as logistics in a land-locked country had been addressed and analyzed before.  Yes, I’m sure it has.  I very sure.  I’m very, very sure.  I’m certain it has.  I’m very certain.  I’m VERY, VERY CERTAIN.  It’s just that the idiots at the White House won’t listen to the Milbloggers.

Logistics rules.  The logisticians tell the Generals what to do, and not even the President overrules them.  It’s just the way it works.  Military logisticians will meet the schedule or they won’t.  Either way, more histrionics at the White House won’t change anything.  The Obama administration is now trafficking in a world where reality matters.

But there is one more thing.  The hollering and objections for lack of timeliness of a man who wasted precious months considering the alternatives to more troops in Afghanistan rings rather hollow.  It’s a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Is it logistically possible to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months 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?

Helmand: Camping Trip to Hell

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

From McClatchy.

FOB HASSANABAD, Afghanistan — The young Marines at this outpost could be on a camping trip to Hell.

The living conditions in Helmand Province, one of the worst regions for trouble in Afghanistan, are such that most of friends and family in the United States wouldn’t consider putting up with them for one day, much less the months these men will be assigned here.

It’s not even officially winter, yet temperatures routinely fall below freezing at night, and there’s no heat in the tents. At night when standing guard in one of the security towers, the Marines put on layer after layer of clothes, including thermal suits. It does little to ward off the chill of the desert air.

There is no hot water. The only running water in the camp comes from a 3 inch diameter hose that jets out cold water in fire hydrant fashion. Clothes are washed in buckets, when time permits and the weather cooperates, then strung between tents and dried in the sun.

There are “sun” bags that can warm water to a tolerable temperature but they’re used outside in a small wooden enclosure where the wind wreaks havoc on the bathing experience. Some of the men go for a couple of weeks without a real bath, using cloth sanitary wipes. Many just use the cold water from the hose and get clean as fast as possible without succumbing to uncontrollable shivering.

Meals come in a box. After a few days they all taste the same: Chicken with salsa, meat loaf, pork loin patty, cheese tortellini. The men gruble, as military nmen have for centuries.

Toilet facilities are wooden stalls with canvas doors and plastic commode seats where WAG (Waste Allocation and Gell) bags are used.

Mice are everywhere, pouring in from the surrounding cornfields. The men have adopted several kittens, even outfitting them with flea collars. The arrangement benefits t the cats and the Marines; the cats crave the attention and they have a healthy appetite for the mice.

But the Marines of Golf Company don’t mind the austere conditions. Most shrug their shoulders and say they don’t like spending much time in the base camp anyway, they’d rather be out on patrol chasing the bad guys.

There’s no shortage of bad guys in Helmand, scene of some of the most intense fighting in Afghanistan. It boasts the highest casualty rate in the country.

But the Marines say they don’t mind. After all they are Marines.

Now compare this to the conditions we observed in Bagram Bloats: Where is the infantry?

The base’s main road, a tree-lined thoroughfare called “Disney drive,” is so congested at times it looks like a downtown street at rush hour. Kicking up dust on that road are Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles, SUVs, buses, trucks and sedans.

A pedestrian path running alongside that road is as busy as a shopping street on a Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of soldiers, Marines, airmen, navy officers and civilian contractors almost rubbing shoulders. Similarly, the lines are long at the overcrowded food halls, the American fast food outlets, cafes, PX stores and ATM machines.

Signs on bathroom walls warn of a water shortage.

“If you think you are maybe wasting water, YOU PROBABLY ARE,” warns one sign.

Clients must wait, sometimes for up to an hour, for a haircut. For the luxury of a back massage, an appointment is recommended.

The ratio of support to infantry is far too high, the efficiency of logistics too low, and the expense of supplies out of control.  Until this institutional and bureaucratic bloat is lanced, any campaign will cost more than it should not only in terms of dollars, but in that most important metric: human lives.  The DoD needs real force transformation, not shuffling the deck chairs.

The Logistical Cost of Being Deployed

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

The logistical cost of being deployed in Afghanistan is especially high due to the nature of providing land-locked troops with heavy equipment, weapons, ammunition and other necessary supplies (including fuel for machinery, from helicopters and other aircraft to generators).

Hence I was among the first to point out the Taliban strategy of interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chamen (coming from the Pakistani port city of Karachi), and also among the first to weigh in against the daydream of Russia as a viable and reliable logistics route, recommending instead engaging the Caucasus for such needs.

There there are the local costs to consider after bulk supplies have been transported.  We don’t own the terrain because of lack of troops, and this lack of ownership is expensive.  How expensive?  From Thomas P.M. Barnett, courtesy of SWJ Blog:

“Rebalancing” has been the watchword of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy to date: rebalancing the global economy between East and West, rebalancing domestic needs and foreign responsibilities, and — soon enough — rebalancing the international security burden among the world’s great powers. One number explains why that last rebalancing is necessary: It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year.

Rob Thornton adds this WSJ source:

“In a speech in mid-October, Gen. Conway said military-grade fuel — which costs roughly $1 a gallon in the U.S. – can sometimes cost the Marine Corps about $400 per gallon once all the expenses of ferrying it into Afghanistan are factored in. The Marines operating in southern Afghanistan consume more than 88,000 gallons of the fuel per day, he said.

“Most all of that comes along this fairly tenuous supply line across Pakistan, where we’re paying large amounts of money to tribes so that they don’t fight each other and so that they don’t raid our supply lines,” Gen. Conway said at an energy conference in Virginia.

Pricey, no doubt, as we have pointed out for months and even years.  But Schmedlap points out the Tom Barnett has used a linear equation to figure the costs of larger units based on smaller units.  This doesn’t account for the difference between fixed and variable costs.  True enough, Schmedlap.  Good catch.

But I’ll go one step further.  While not claiming that the equation is linear, it (i.e., the costs per person) is more nearly inversely proportional than proportional.  At least, there is a turn-around where it becomes less expensive to deploy more troops.  No, not just on a per person basis, but in total.  I claim that it would be less expensive in the long run to deploy 100,000 troops than it would be to deploy 50,000.

Audacious claim, no?  But consider the cost of a gallon of gasoline in Helmand.  $400.  It costs this much because we cannot ensure security and don’t own the roads.  Even the Afghani contractors we hire attempt the transit of supplies by strap hanging.  The lack of security is why combat outposts and other far flung posts must be supplied entirely be helicopter.

Helicopters are of such importance at the moment that the campaign would fall apart without them.  If you own the terrain and can ensure relative security compared to what we have at the moment, the price of a gallon of gasoline would drop from $400.

With logistics being the main cost of the war, more troops doesn’t necessarily mean greater expense.

Can an Insurgency (and Counterinsurgency) Remain Static?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 10 months ago

Our friend BruceR floats some ideas in a recent post, two of which are at least tangentially related.  In the first idea he cites A. J. Rossmiller from TNR.

First, the insurgency does not have the capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose Afghanistan’s central government; and, second, U.S. forces do not have the ability to vanquish the insurgency. It’s true that the Taliban has gained ground in recent months, but, absent a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, it cannot retake sovereign control. This is not to say that Afghanistan isn’t unstable; it clearly is. That has been the case for eight years, however, and, in the absence of some shocking, unforeseen development, it could be true for another eight or 18 or 80 years. An increase of tens of thousands of troops will not change that fact, nor will subtle tactical changes. Rather than teetering on the edge of some imagined precipice, the situation in Afghanistan is at a virtual stalemate.

I disagree, but let’s hold our response in abatement until we cover the second idea.

I am firmly convinced that a shift to a “small footprint” counter-terrorism mission is not only possible but will best serve U.S. national security. To use a military term of art, the bottom line up front is that the United States could successfully transition to an effective small footprint counterterrorism mission over the course of the next three years, ending up with a force of about 13,000 military personnel (or less) in Afghanistan.

BruceR is not advocating the CT position – perhaps, it’s hard to tell – but it appears that he is merely linking it as another idea in the long chain of ideas floating around about Afghanistan at the moment.  Let’s go with that.

To buy into the first notion, i.e., that an insurgency (and counterinsurgency) can remain static for an undefined and protracted amount of time, you would have to believe that both sides are seen as equally righteous, virtuous and within their rights in conducting the campaign.  U.S. troops (and the ISAF) are foreigners, and there would be, it seems, an element of expectation that foreign troops not continue to play a game to a draw, thus prolonging the misery and agony of war for the people.

I will grant the point that there is no particular rush (as in days or even perhaps weeks) in supplying more troops to Afghanistan.  Readers can tool back through the archives and will fail to find a “sky is falling unless we supply more troops within the next two weeks” article.  But if I haven’t advocated panic, I have advocated more troops all along just as I did with Iraq.  I believe that the fear of too large a footprint is vastly overblown, and the more important element for population control and alignment with the counterinsurgent is force projection, progress and increasing stability.

Concerning the small v. large footprint, the element missing in all of the analyses which advocates the counterterrorism approach is the unstated assumption that we can continue to have basing rights, adequate logistics, ordnance, air support and intelligence while we leave the countryside (and urban centers) to Taliban control.  Why, exactly, anyone would believe that there would be any Afghan truck drivers to deliver fuel, food, vehicles, etc., when they will have all been beheaded, is a complete mystery.

Logistics is the beginning, middle and end of a campaign.  Without it, troops don’t succeed.  I was among the first to point out the insurgent strategy of interdicting supplies one and a half years ago while stolid and incompetent U.S. Generals (like Rodriguez) were claiming that the campaign was going just swimmingly.  As our logistics category shows, we have covered this ever since, and the problems continue apace.

To believe that we – the counterinsurgent – can continue to swim in the same sea of vehicles, air traffic, food, water, ordnance, weapons and intelligence support for SOF operators who are killing Taliban and al Qaeda HVTs, while at the same time we send nine tenths of the troops home is simply a fairy tale.  It’s the stuff of children’s stories.

Finally, concerning the small footprint model, continuing the campaign for the next 18 or 80 years, as the stupid TNR article said, without properly resourcing the troops to do the job, introduces an intractable moral dilemma to the argument.  Even if the proposal has been put forward as a straw man for the sake of debate, the argument presupposes that it’s acceptable to the American public to sacrifice the sons of America for a campaign that doesn’t have what it needs to succeed.  This has never happened in American history, and it won’t happen this time either.  It will be resource the campaign or get out – in the psyche of the American public, and in the countryside of Afghanistan.  Both point to a nexus for the campaign.


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