Afghanistan Operations Not Vulnerable to Supply Line Dangers, General Says
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2009 Despite dangers U.S. convoys face in delivering supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan by way of Pakistan, military operations there aren’t susceptible to those threats, the Defense Department’s top uniformed logistician said yesterday.
Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, ensured members of the House Armed Services Joint Air and Land Forces and the Air Power and Expeditionary Forces subcommittees that troops get what they need, because his command doesn’t rely on one option or system of resupply.
“My job that you’ve given to us is to make sure we get supplies through regardless of the attacks, because you don’t want to make this a vulnerability,” McNabb said. “And I, quite frankly, I don’t think it is. With the tools you all have given us, we have lots of options to get the equipment [troops] need in.”
About 75 percent of the U.S. supplies troops there receive are delivered via ground convoy hundreds of miles from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and then through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.
From a logistical perspective, Afghanistan isn’t the ideal place for conflict because the land-locked country is made up of mostly desert and mountainous terrain. However, convoys use several different “gates” into Afghanistan along the country’s eastern border with Pakistan, McNabb said.
“As we look at that theater … obviously getting into Afghanistan, there’s not a whole bunch of ways to come in, but we make sure we have multiple options,” he said.
Attacks on ground convoys have decreased since early January when Pakistani forces began targeting insurgent forces along the Khyber Pass, the general said.
McNabb added that mostly non-combat materials, such as food, water, fuel and construction supplies, are delivered by ground, while military weapons and other “sensitive” equipment are flown in by cargo plane. However, McNabb and other defense officials remain vested in searching for alternate options, possibly routes from countries north of Afghanistan, he said.
Rail and road passages to Afghanistan from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan all have been reported as possible facilitators for U.S. and NATO non-combat supply chains.
Transcom and U.S. Central Command are assessing all of the possible ports as well as airfields in the region as well, McNabb said. Airfields in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan, are available to facilitate non-combat supplies, but they’ve never been needed, because of the stockpiles of supplies forces have, he said.
Transcom regularly surpasses the daily number of containers delivered by convoy that ground commanders have conveyed as adequate, he said.
“Today I use a measure of 78 containers a day to keep us even with what the forces we have there need,” the general explained. “But I try to keep the average above 78, which we usually do.”
Transcom’s most recent seven-day average was 138 containers per day, he continued. Since early January, troops in Afghanistan have received an average of about 90 containers daily. “We’ve kind of stayed ahead of the flow,” McNabb added.
By spring, however, the first wave of an additional 17,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines will be hitting the ground in Afghanistan to build up forces there, including at least 300 Stryker vehicles, among other vehicles and equipment.
The anticipated drawdown of forces in Iraq while increasing America’s military’s footprint in Afghanistan will be a difficult mission to manage, but Transcom has everything he needs to get the job done, McNabb said.
Hundreds of cargo planes are at Transcom’s disposal should they have to rely on that, more expensive, route, he said. Airfields in Bagram and Kandahar also are available for supply loads.
“As we increase the number of troops in Afghanistan there will be a new number of containers and equipment we’ll get in,” he said. “We will look at every avenue to get in and look at the cheapest and best way, but if the cheapest and best way doesn’t work, we’ll figure out another way.”