Friday, September 16, 2011

U.S. Now Relies On Alternate Afghan Supply Routes

To the west of Afghanistan lies Iran. Pakistan, politically unstable and home to a ruthless Taliban movement, lies on the south and east, across a mountainous border. It is no wonder that the shipment of supplies and equipment to U.S. forces in Afghanistan has been a source of headaches throughout the 10 years the United States has been engaged there.

"This is the logistics challenge of our generation," says Vice Adm. Mark Harnitcheck, deputy commander of the U.S. military's Transportation Command and a student of military logistics history. "The challenge of my father's generation was escorting convoys across the north Atlantic when we didn't know how to do that very well. Convoys in 1943 would lose 16 of their 32 ships. The Army had their challenge supplying Patton in his race across France, keeping him resupplied. Supporting operations in Afghanistan is our generational challenge."

For the first seven years of the Afghanistan war, almost all supplies and equipment were shipped by sea to the Pakistani port of Karachi. From there, they were trucked overland to Afghanistan, through parts of Pakistan effectively controlled by the Taliban.

In 2008, according to Harnitcheck, the U.S. military lost as much as 15 percent of its supplies in those areas due to ambushes and theft. Establishing another supply route became a top priority.

When President Obama decided to surge 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, the use of alternative routes became all the more critical, notes Mitchell.

NATO 3.0

At the Lisbon NATO Summit, the US-European alliance made an open ended commitment to Afghanistan. NATO 3.0 has the details.