Afghan Supply Route Problem Becomes Exit Route Problem

Back in July, Pakistan finally re-opened its highways to NATO supply trucks after the routes had been closed for several months in response to the US killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in an attack on a border post in November, 2011. A huge backlog of trucks and supplies had accumulated during that prolonged closure, and clearing it was complicated by the resumption of attacks on the supply convoys inside Pakistan.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal informed us that the US would test using the Pakistan overland route in reverse, as the long process of ending the NATO mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 begins its withdrawal of equipment:

The U.S. military’s efforts to ship out the mountains of equipment it accumulated over 11 years of Afghan war began in earnest this month, when a trial load of military hardware trucked through Pakistan set sail from the port of Karachi.

The shipment, which included more than 70 containers and 20 military vehicles, was a crucial test of a plan to bring home an estimated $22 billion in U.S. military gear from landlocked Afghanistan. Until now, the Pakistani route was used for supplies entering Afghanistan, rather than exiting.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said the successful delivery proved that the coalition’s transit route through Pakistan would enable the military to meet President Barack Obama‘s goal of cutting the size of the 66,000-strong American force in Afghanistan by half by next February.

“Pakistan certainly has a vested interest in getting it right too, because it’s a big deal for them,” Gen. Shapiro said. “So we feel very confident that the Pakistani military is going to help us move through Pakistan.”

Perhaps that first shipment of 20 trucks made it through, but today we have news that a convoy of five trucks on the exit route was attacked and destroyed. From AFP via the Express Tribune:

Five trucks carrying Nato equipment out of Afghanistan were set ablaze by gunmen near Quetta on Monday, as the international military alliance winds down its combat mission there, officials said.

Four masked gunmen on two motorbikes opened fire at the vehicles, forcing them to stop and then doused them in petrol to set them on fire in Balochistan.

“Five Nato trucks were carrying Nato equipment back. Gunmen first fired on the first vehicle and then sprinkled petrol on all of them,” Iftikhar Bugti, a senior government official told AFP by telephone.

The incident happened in Bolan district, around 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of Quetta, the provincial capital.

“All five trucks have been almost completely destroyed,” Bugti said. One driver was slightly injured in the attack, he added.

The pace of exiting material is expected to pick up greatly, and the Wall Street Journal article informs us that the bulk of the material will be shipped through Pakistan:

When the exodus is in full swing—military commanders expect the logistics push to reach its peak this August—the U.S. will be sending about 1,500 military vehicles and 1,000 containers per month out of Afghanistan. The majority—around two-thirds of that cargo—will move through Pakistan, military officials say.

The most sensitive equipment, such as weapons and communications systems, must be flown out by air, the costliest option. U.S. officials have also negotiated an alternative overland route, dubbed the Northern Distribution Network, through Central Asia to Baltic and Black Sea ports. While more expensive than the route through Pakistan, the NDN isn’t exposed to attacks by Pakistani Taliban.

Perhaps the military will be content to allow a number of the convoys to be burned by militants in Pakistan. After all, when the military burns excess equipment, it now has to track the soldiers who were at the burn site for future health problems.

15 replies
  1. Wapiti says:

    For the last ten years I’ve occasionally thought of the annihilation of the British army (1842) as it retreated from Kabul. Once a withdrawal starts the attacks might increase.

  2. emptywheel says:

    Meanwhile, DOD is running $7B over budget because of the costs of getting out.

    DoD is operating about $7 billion above its war funding projections for operations in Afghanistan, Hagel said. Much of these increased costs are attributed to the removal of troops and equipment from the country.

  3. joanneleon says:

    Could be a boom year for black market these next couple years. It’s not like there are rebel armies in Syria and elswhere dying to have some of that equipment pouring out or afghanistan. P.s. blame alp typos on mobile screen keyboards today and all these new mobile qds really really suck leaging almost no room o see hat i am typing. Wheee

  4. karenjj2 says:

    @joanneleon: don’t know if it would help, but u might try opera mobile web browser. works fine for me but i’ve stuck with obsolete smartphone win6.5 and orig version of opera supplied. i also think there’s a mobile firefox for newer phones — might check that.

  5. karenjj2 says:

    hi Jim! i sincerely appreciate your work as one of the few “war correspondents” we have in u.s. thank you!

  6. karenjj2 says:

    p.s. 4 guys, 2 motorbikes and a can of gas take out a 5 truck nato convoy?? what is wrong with this picture???

  7. What Constitution? says:

    @karenjj2: They were really bahd guys. Shoulda droned ’em — and anyone aged 14-35 in the area who might have looked like them — two weeks ago, to prevent this terrorist attack on America[n interests]. See how that works?

  8. Phil Perspective says:

    @Jim White: I’m curious of something. Leaving presents a big conundrum, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t the war profiteers back home kinda hope a lot of stuff gets blown up by AQ(or whoever)? DoD budget increases. More money for the MIC. But then AQ(or whomever) doesn’t want to blow up too much stuff that it slows us getting out, right?

  9. Jim White says:

    @Phil Perspective: Yes, there a lot of things going on that get internally conflicting. I should have added to my response to Marcy above that I think the reason we are above budget for withdrawal costs is that it’s just not in DoD culture to think seriously about withdrawal, so budgeting for it would have been a job nobody wanted. Thus, nobody did it and the budget probably doesn’t exist at all.

  10. Michael Murry says:

    “Wherever the German (i.e., American) soldier plants his boot, there he must remain.” … Until he has to get the hell out or start reciting Kipling’s prayer:

    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains
    And the women come out to cut up what remains
    Then roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    And go to your gawd like a soldier.

    The bloody, farcical end to a bloody, farcical disaster will not matter in the least, of course, as long as the fuck-up-and-move up U.S. military can keep anyone with a camera from taking pictures of the looming Afghan Dunkirk.

  11. Michael Murry says:

    “There is a theory which has not yet been accurately formulated or given a name, but which is very widely accepted and is brought forward whenever it is necessary to justify some action which conflicts with the sense of decency of the average human being. It might be called, until some better name is found, the Theory of Catastrophic Gradualism…. The formula usually employed is ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ And if one replies, ‘Yes, but where is the omelet?’ the answer is likely to be: ‘Oh, well, you can’t expect everything to happen all in a moment.'” — George Orwell, “Catastrophic Gradualism” (1946)

    Hence, from Vietnam through Iraq to Afghanistan, we have — courtesy of the United States military:

    “Another Catastrophic Success”

    With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs
    Advancing towards the exit march the dregs
    Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
    No promised omelet, just the broken eggs?

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

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