Archive for the 'Logistics' Category

The Death of Bin Laden And the Myth of ‘American Empire’

BY Glen Tschirgi
10 years, 4 months ago

I can’t believe I am going to give space to this Article by Timothy Carney in The Washington Examiner, but, as it seems to represent a growing feeling out there, even among conservatives, Mr. Carney’s article may be useful in clarifying some issues that get awfully foggy when something happens like the killing of Bin Laden.

Mr. Carney’s piece posits these incredible insights:

The United States’ long, bloody occupation of Afghanistan did not significantly help the U.S. find and kill Osama bin Laden, current evidence indicates. Neither did the invasion and occupation of Iraq help in decapitating al Qaeda, it appears.

The means of bin Laden’s demise, and the location of his hideout, both undermine the arguments offered for the last decade by hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.

Somehow, Carney (and others) have been trying to turn the killing of Osama Bin Laden into more than just the swing of the executioner’s axe.  But no matter how it is spun, there is no, larger lesson here.  Bin Laden was a crazed beast that needed to be hunted down and terminated.   If there is a larger lesson, it is not in the killing of Bin Laden, per se, but in the means– the necessity for utmost secrecy, to keep even a whiff of the operation from a purported ally, Pakistan, and to covertly violate Pakistani airspace to a location deep within its borders, some 40 miles outside of its capital.  But for Carney and his fellow travelers the killing of Bin Laden is an opportunity to beat the drum for retreat, defeat and America-bashing thrown in for good measure.

Rather than produce any, real evidence, Carney puts together a straw man:  “hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.”   I challenge Mr. Carney to produce the quotes of these so-called “hawks” that “for the last decade” have been calling for “an imperial presence” in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

This notion of an Imperial America needs to be stamped out on a regular basis.   It seems to be a habitat for those determined to blame America for all that is wrong in the world and determined, furthermore, to reduce the U.S. to a whimpering shell.   Victor Davis Hanson, the classical historian and Hoover Institute resident scholar, has said many times, the U.S. is not an Imperial power nor does it maintain an “Empire” in any, proper understanding of those terms.  From his 2002 opinion piece on the subject:

But if we really are imperial, we rule over a very funny sort of empire.

We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which in turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, American bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us and profitable to their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul.

Athenians, Romans, Ottomans, and the British wanted land and treasure and grabbed all they could get when they could. The United States hasn’t annexed anyone’s soil since the Spanish-American War — a checkered period in American history that still makes us, not them, out as villains in our own history books. Most Americans are far more interested in carving up the Nevada desert for monster homes than in getting their hands on Karachi or the Amazon basin. Puerto Ricans are free to vote themselves independence anytime they wish.

Imperial powers order and subjects obey. But in our case, we offer the Turks strategic guarantees, political support — and money — for their allegiance. France and Russia go along in the U.N. — but only after we ensure them the traffic of oil and security for outstanding accounts. Pakistan gets debt relief that ruined dot-coms could only dream of; Jordan reels in more aid than our own bankrupt municipalities.


Empires usually have contenders that check their power and through rivalry drive their ambitions. Athens worried about Sparta and Persia. Rome found its limits when it butted up against Germany and Parthia. The Ottomans never could bully too well the Venetians or the Spanish. Britain worried about France and Spain at sea and the Germanic peoples by land. In contrast, the restraint on American power is not China, Russia, or the European Union, but rather the American electorate itself — whose reluctant worries are chronicled weekly by polls that are eyed with fear by our politicians. We, not them, stop us from becoming what we could.

The Athenian ekklesia, the Roman senate, and the British Parliament alike were eager for empire and reflected the energy of their people. In contrast, America went to war late and reluctantly in World Wars I and II, and never finished the job in either Korea or Vietnam. We were likely to sigh in relief when we were kicked out of the Philippines, and really have no desire to return. Should the Greeks tell us to leave Crete — promises, promises — we would be more likely to count the money saved than the influence lost. Take away all our troops from Germany and polls would show relief, not anger, among Americans. Isolationism, parochialism, and self-absorption are far stronger in the American character than desire for overseas adventurism. Our critics may slur us for “overreaching,” but our elites in the military and government worry that they have to coax a reluctant populace, not constrain a blood-drunk rabble.


Most empires chafe at the cost of their rule and complain that the expense is near-suicidal. Athens raised the Aegean tribute often, and found itself nearly broke after only the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War. The story of the Roman Empire is one of shrinking legions, a debased currency, and a chronically bankrupt imperial treasury. Even before World War I, the Raj had drained England. In contrast, America spends less of its GNP on defense than it did during the last five decades. And most of our military outlays go to training, salaries, and retirements — moneys that support, educate, and help people rather than simply stockpile weapons and hone killers. The eerie thing is not that we have 13 massive $5 billion carriers, but that we could easily produce and maintain 20 more.


Our bases dot the globe to keep the sea-lanes open, thugs and murderers under wraps, and terrorists away from European, Japanese, and American globalists who profit mightily by blanketing the world with everything from antibiotics and contact lenses to BMWs and Jennifer Lopez — in other words, to keep the world safe and prosperous enough for Michael Moore to rant on spec, for Noam Chomsky to garner a lot of money and tenure from a defense-contracting MIT, for Barbra Streisand to make millions, for Edward Said’s endowed chair to withstand Wall Street downturns, for Jesse Jackson to take off safely on his jet-powered, tax-free junkets.


Intervention is supposed to be synonymous with exploitation; thus the Athenians killed, enslaved, exacted, and robbed on Samos and Melos. No one thought Rome was going into Numidia or Gaul — one million killed, another million enslaved — to implant local democracy. Nor did the British decide that at last 17th-century India needed indigenous elections. But Americans have overthrown Noriega, Milosevic, and Mullah Omar and are about to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, to put in their places elected leaders, not legates or local client kings. Instead of the much-rumored “pipeline” that we supposedly coveted in Afghanistan, we are paying tens of millions to build a road and bridges so that Afghan truckers and traders won’t break their axles.

In that regard, America is also a revolutionary, rather than a stuffy imperial society. Its crass culture abroad — rap music, Big Macs, Star Wars, Pepsi, and Beverly Hillbillies reruns — does not reflect the tastes and values of either an Oxbridge elite or a landed Roman aristocracy. That explains why Le Monde or a Spanish deputy minister may libel us, even as millions of semi-literate Mexicans, unfree Arabs, and oppressed southeast Asians are dying to get here. It is one thing to mobilize against grasping, wealthy white people who want your copper, bananas, or rubber — quite another when your own youth want what black, brown, yellow, and white middle-class Americans alike have to offer. We so-called imperialists don’t wear pith helmets, but rather baggy jeans and backwards baseball caps. Thus far the rest of the globe — whether Islamic fundamentalists, European socialists, or Chinese Communists — has not yet formulated an ideology antithetical to the kinetic American strain of Western culture.

Much, then, of what we read about the evil of American imperialism is written by post-heroic and bored elites, intellectuals, and coffeehouse hacks, whose freedom and security are a given, but whose rarified tastes are apparently unshared and endangered. In contrast, the poorer want freedom and material things first — and cynicism, skepticism, irony, and nihilism second. So we should not listen to what a few say, but rather look at what many do.

Critiques of the United States based on class, race, nationality, or taste have all failed to explicate, much less stop, the American cultural juggernaut. Forecasts of bankrupting defense expenditures and imperial overstretch are the stuff of the faculty lounge. Neither Freud nor Marx is of much help. And real knowledge of past empires that might allow judicious analogies is beyond the grasp of popular pundits.

Add that all up, and our exasperated critics are left with the same old empty jargon of legions and gunboats.

Hard to say it any better than that.

Moving on to the other silly notions in Carney’s piece,he writes:

Bin Laden’s capture provides no vindication to those hawks who argued that invading Iraq would provide a treasure trove of intelligence on al Qaeda, nor those who insisted that 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan were a key part of our war on the terrorist network.

“We found bin Laden in Pakistan without troops on the ground,” counterterrorism expert Michael Cohen, formerly of the New America Foundation, told me. “We didn’t need troops on the ground to carry out a very successful operation.”

The location of bin Laden’s compound — a few hundred yards from a Pakistani military school — also deflates another argument of hawks. President Bush said in April that a U.S. exit from Afghanistan would “create a safe haven for terrorists.”

This notion underestimates the capabilities of American intelligence and military forces: Our drones, spies and special forces can strike basically anywhere. But it also ignores the ability of terrorists to hide in plain sight: Bin Laden was not stowing away in some clandestine cave in the wild regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan. He was living within shouting distance of Pakistan’s West Point, possibly since his compound was built in 2005.

Liberal blogger and former hawk Matt Yglesias made this same point: “Trying to physically conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.”

Who ever argued that invading Iraq would provide “a treasure trove of intelligence on Al Qaeda” ? The 2003 invasion of Iraq was always about the removal of a crazed dictator, hostile to the U.S., in possession of weapons of mass destruction.   As it turned out, Al Qaeda was drawn to Iraq like a mosquito to a bug zapper.  And, predictably enough, that “bug” got zapped by the Marines, but good.  Carney seems to be making up the bit about “hawks” from whole cloth.

As for his contention that the troops in Afghanistan served no useful purpose in the killing of Bin Laden, where does Carney think that the helicopters took off from, New Jersey?   Clearly the bases in Afghanistan were critical in providing the point of departure for the attack and, no doubt, logistical support as well.  Carney’s point about the U.S. capability to “strike basically anywhere” is only relevant in the context of decapitation operations.   As TCJ has argued repeatedly, those operations, as useful as they may be to disrupt, will never defeat the enemy.  Carney’s points exist in a fanciful vacuum where he imagines that SOF can win the war single-handedly somehow.    The quotation from Yglesias simply underscores this myopic thinking:  of course it is difficult to invade, occupy and root out the terrorists and there is no guarantee of success.   Sometimes, however, it is necessary and no amount of hand-wringing will change that fact.

Whether Carney likes it or not, there is simply no, easy option for fighting the Islamofascists.   They have to be beaten like Al Qaeda was in Anbar Province, Iraq:  direct, kinetic operations that wipe them out mercilessly and demonstrate to the population that terrorism is the losing side.   The popular notion that we cannot “kill our way” out of an insurgency is too often political cover for avoiding the hard reality of the fight.

We can argue about whether the strategy in Afghanistan has been correct.  The evidence coming in from Helmand Province and Kandahar, where U.S. Marines are literally wiping the floor with the enemy and making it impossible for them to re-infiltrate, is encouraging.   It is the path to victory and it is the only, viable exit.

Those of Mr. Carney’s opinion looking for lessons from the war on terror thus far  should study Iraq, not the elimination of Bin Laden.    At the height of the hysteria in 2006, when people (no doubt Mr. Carney included) were calling the war in Iraq hopeless and unwinnable, President Bush brought in more forces to apply more pressure and better kinetic operations against the terrorists.   The hard fighting in 2007 paid off and by late 2007, Al Qaeda was clearly on the run and a broken and humiliated foe.   Although I personally disagree with the rapid draw down in Iraq, there is no doubt that our very ability to draw down is due entirely to the butt-kicking that we gave the terrorists (and Al Sadr’s thugs) in 2006-2007.    Iraq is relatively stable today, with extremely low casualty levels.

Turning back to Afghanistan, the U.S. does not look for “excuses” to surrender and run away.   Maybe Obama does, but not the U.S.   We either win the fight by taking it to the terrorists, or we decide that the fight is not in our national interest and we leave.   Either way, it has nothing to do with a so-called Empire or the killing of Bin Laden.  The killing of Bin Laden satisfied a basic need to see retributive justice done.   (This, as a side-bar, is far different than revenge and, therefore, wholly justifiable).   But, as others have observed, the tide of war has long left Bin Laden behind and shifted to other, more important locations:  Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.  Although it is understandable for politicians to grandstand and preen over a successful mission, it would be far better for national security if we congratulated the work of our military and intelligence services and quickly moved on to grappling with the important tasks at hand.

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus Part II

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 8 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

Logistics, Russia and New START: Gates Over a Barrel

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 10 months ago

From the Los Angeles Times:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Saturday rejected claims by Senate Republicans that the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia would hamper U.S. missile defense programs and nuclear weapons modernization, warning of “significant consequences” if the Senate doesn’t ratify the accord.

He said that Russia could also respond to a failure to approve the treaty by scaling back its assistance for the war in Afghanistan. Russia has allowed the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to ship supplies through its territory to Afghanistan, including a recent decision to permit transport of so-called mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, the heavily armored troop carriers used to guard against hidden bombs.

“Despite what anybody says, I, as secretary of Defense, and the entire uniformed leadership of the American military believe that this treaty is in our national security interest,” Gates said, taking on claims by critics of the treaty that some in the military privately oppose the accord.

His comments to reporters after meeting with officials in Chile were part of a lobbying blitz by senior Obama administration officials to persuade the Senate to ratify the treaty, which restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed long-distance warheads, before the end of the year.

In addition to Gates’ comments, President Obama devoted his weekend radio address to the treaty.

“Without ratification this year, the United States will have no inspectors on the ground, and no ability to verify Russian nuclear activities,” Obama said in the address.

“Without ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan,” the president continued.

So the stated reasons for support of New START are (1) pressure on Iran, and (2) logistics through Russia.  As for Iran, it’s truly sad that this administration is still mired in the ideological framework that assumes, despite all assurances to the contrary by the radical Mullahs, that we can negotiate or pressure Iran into relinquishing their pursuit of nuclear weapons.  I guess at some point in my life (I don’t know, perhaps 2 or 3 years of age) I believed in fairy tales too, but I wasn’t leading the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

As for logistics, I’m wondering why no one has warned this administration that their choice to partner with Russia for logistics would end up dictating our foreign policy?  I’m also wondering why no alternative to the Khyber pass has been presented to this administration?

Gates and the administration look incredibly weak, with their tail in between their legs.  It’s a sad testimony to the lack of strategic, long range planning and foresight within this administration.

The Logistical Magnitude of the Campaign in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 11 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
10 years, 11 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
11 years, 5 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.


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 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.


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
11 years, 6 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.


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
11 years, 7 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
11 years, 8 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
11 years, 9 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?

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