Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 05, 2012

Afghanistan Logistics - A Joker For Putin

The U.S. continues to provoke Pakistan:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging leaders of India to play a more robust role in Afghanistan, as U. S tensions with Pakistan, India's arch-rival, continue to churn.

Inviting India to surround Pakistan will not be welcome in Rawalpindi. Adding that to the continuation of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, even on people mourning their dead, Obama's unwillingness to say "sorry" for the killing of Pakistani soldiers by U.S. troops and the recent snubbing of President Zardawi at the NATO summit one can only imagine how enraged the Pakistani feel towards the U.S. It is now likely that, even if the U.S. would be willing to pay the demanded transit fee of $5,000 per container, the Pakistani government, facing upcoming elections, would no longer be able to agree to that.

There has even been talk of war against U.S. forces. Today, as Panetta is in India, Pakistan tested a nuclear capable cruise missile. It was the fifth test of various nuclear capable Pakistani missiles within the last six weeks. That is supposed to send a message and the addressee is not only India. A war against Pakistan will not happen but the threat of war is real.

As the U.S. seems determined not to make peace with Pakistan it creates itself a huge problem for the retreat from Afghanistan. The only way out is now either by air or through the north. NATO has just signed new deals that will allow transports through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It also has agreements with Russia and Turkmenistan and while the routes through those countries are expensive and long they are also relatively secure.

So the retreat will have to go through the north with, like in Soviet times, only two major routes to leave the country.

General Concept and Scheme of Soviet Withdrawal (Lester W. Grau)

The Soviets also used the western part of the ring road from Kandhar via Herat towards what is today Turkmenistan while the U.S., it seems, will mostly rely on the eastern part of of the ringroad via Kabul, Bagram towards Termetz and Uzbekistan. U.S. troops concentrations are in the east of Afghanistan and around Kabul and there is no easy way from the east to the western exit route.

But that eastern part of the ringroad has one very problematic choke point, the Salang tunnel:

For 20 miles north and south of the old Soviet-built tunnel at Salang Pass, thousands of trucks are idled beside the road, waiting for a turn to get through its perilous, 1½-mile length.

This is the only passable route for heavy truck traffic bringing NATO supplies in from the Central Asian republics to the north, as they now must come.

There are other roads, but they often are single-lane dirt tracks through even higher mountain passes, or they are frequently subject to ambushes by insurgents and bandits. So a tunnel built to handle 1,000 vehicles a day, and until the Pakistani boycott against NATO in November was handling 2,000, now tries — and often fails — to let 10,000 vehicles through, alternating northbound and southbound truck traffic every other day.

“It’s only a matter of time until there’s a catastrophe,” said Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, the head of maintenance for the Salang Pass. “One hundred percent certain, there will be a disaster, and when there is, it’s not a disaster for Afghanistan alone, but for the whole international community that uses this road.”

He said 90 percent of the traffic now is trailer and tanker trucks carrying NATO supplies.

With 10,000 trucks per day the roads at this bottleneck are likely to get worse during the retreat and periods of full closure of the tunnel, due to weather, accidents or attacks, are to be expected.

What makes this retreat more difficult than the Soviet one is the sheer mass of equipment that the U.S. has used in Afghanistan. The Soviet units had much less equipment and amenities than the U.S. troops have. They also left much of it for their Afghan partners. Today's Afghan army is unlikely to be able to use modern U.S. equipment and much more will have to be transported back than in Soviet times.

That equipment will also, unlike in Soviets times, have to cross multiple boarders of various countries each of which has its own interest and corrupt officials. The retreat will be very expensive and not only in monetary terms.

From a global political standpoint the necessity of a U.S. retreat through the north has some advantages. It gives Russia a kind of veto over U.S. foreign policy. "You want to invade Syria? Sorry those containers can not pass right now. We need check on them fist, those papers seem to be wrong and by the way those trains are unlike to run this month or next."

With the only route out of Afghanistan now solely through the north the U.S. gave Putin a joker, a wild card, that he can threaten to play whenever he feels that he needs to. That may well tame some other agressive  U.S. foreign policies.

Posted by b on June 5, 2012 at 18:15 UTC | Permalink


The US could be planning to "retreat" through Iran.
Did you notice that three American "diplomats" armed with heavy weaponry (whatever that means)were arrested yesterday in Peshawar?

Posted by: bevin | Jun 5 2012 19:06 utc | 1

Did the oil and gas pipelines ever get built by the US? I had understood that the whole Afghanistan adventure was about them.

Posted by: www | Jun 5 2012 19:35 utc | 2

To put it in layman's terms, NATO is trapped in Afghanistan..Don't be fooled by all the nice nice sound-bites you hear at their fancy conferences - those are purely for domestic consumption..The Russians are hoping to milk more cash from them to give them access to transport routes on their way out..

Hubris and imperialism is a very dangerous mix..They never learn..

Posted by: Zico | Jun 5 2012 19:57 utc | 3

Zico, you're saying that the Russians can be bought. Aside from what this could mean for the US exit, it also shows that sooner or later Russia will get its price to drop Syria altogether. Not very encouraging for Syria.

Posted by: www | Jun 5 2012 20:01 utc | 4

www..Yes, I'm saying Russia can be bought ..But they not entirely stupid as their US counterparts..If the Russians didn't like Assad, they would've dropped Syria long time ago..Look what how they ditched Qaddafi in seconds??

For Russia, Syria is and remains a strategic depth that won't be given away for a few worthless dollars and NATO non-aggression promises.Their actions have proven that so far.

As for them allowing NATO to use their transport facilities, look at it as their way of kicking the horse while its down..They know NATO's desperate to get out and they won't miss this opportunity to milk more cash from the situation.Heck, NATO will pay Iran to get out if Iran could be flexible enough...Their latest tensions with Pakistan is the sign on the wall..Any idiot could see from the beginning that Pakistan won't allow a "NATO win" in Afghanistan. They played their double game well for 10 damn years and suffered too in "drones"..It's surprising all the best brains in NATO couldn't see through this BS..

It'll serve as a lesson for NATO to think carefully about how they'll extricate themselves from any conflict before they get involved. But will they learn???

Posted by: Zico | Jun 5 2012 20:12 utc | 5

Unlike USA, China and Russia are long-term governments, or should I say regimes - In this case regime signals something more stable. They keep sight of fundamental principles and precedent in foreign relations. And with the deceit in the Libya no-fly-zone, they are not likely to be persuaded by the west again.

Posted by: Alexander | Jun 5 2012 20:24 utc | 6

The price for Russia to abandon Assad is some kind of guarantee that they can keep their only Mediterranean naval base, which is in Syria. I doubt whether the Russians are going to trust any guarantee, especially from NATO or the US. Another factor is that Russia, unlike the old USSR, is now quite religious so they are reacting negatively to the plight of Syrian Christians, who are mostly orthodox.

Posted by: Albertde | Jun 5 2012 20:24 utc | 7

Looks as though I made a post in the wrong thread. What racist delusion drives the claim that Russia and Russians are so morally corrupt they can be bought on any issue confronting the UN security council?
As I posted earlier there is a big difference in the ties Russians feel towards Libya and Libyans and the ties between Russians and Syrians. Putin & co lost considerable support across the spectrum of Russian political thought when the reality of how badly they had been fooled over Iraq was revealed to all.
The Russian government won't trade off Syria for Afghanistan - that would be regarded in Russia as totally unacceptable - akin to amerika doing a deal with china that blatantly advantaged the established political order in Vietnam at the expense of the South Korean 'democracy'.

An impossible sell because it would undo generations of packaged thinking - for 'loyal amerikans' it would be the ultimate cognitive dissonance.

Russia will use this power though, something amerika will have factored into its strategic thinking so deals have been/will be done somewhere in the world.
Those train spotters who can still study the empire's sleazy plays without losing their lunch will doubtless dig up many potential 'tells' of amerika blinking when Russia stands fast or makes a successful demand.

If I had to guess what where, I would look towards Africa. Russia has been left behind while fukusi and to a lesser extent China carve up that resource rich last big chunk of the world unfucked 100% up by consumerism.

Swapping a corridor into Afghanistan for a bridgehead into central Africa would be a good deal for both sides. Apart from it being an easier sell for govts to their populations, it would have both parties concentrated on making it work.
Particularly given Russian dependence on fukusi non-interference would extend well beyond the time it will take to retreat from Afghanistan.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Jun 5 2012 22:08 utc | 8


"Another factor is that Russia, unlike the old USSR, is now quite religious so they are reacting negatively to the plight of Syrian Christians, who are mostly orthodox."

Interesting observation. Could you recommend any extra reading on this?

Posted by: johnf | Jun 6 2012 5:56 utc | 9

Great post, b.
What's ironic about the situation the Yankees are now in is that even though their cultural obsession with military hardware has been amply demonstrated to be pointless and delusional, they are nevertheless committed to "rescuing" it from Afghanistan. One presumes they'll move it to a safer place, such as a shrine, where they'll be able to worship it - free from the risk of being reminded of its shortcomings.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Jun 6 2012 7:13 utc | 10

India does not border Afghanistan.How could they affect that nation without the permission of Pakistan or Iran?

Posted by: dahoit | Jun 6 2012 15:33 utc | 11


US ‘threatens’ Kayani, but he refuses to help, says book

The US intends to keep between 10,000 to 15,000 counter-terrorism troops in Afghanistan, much beyond its troops drawdown in 2014, which could cross over into Pakistan in case of crisis, a top Obama aide had warned Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
A top Obama aide conveyed this to the Pakistan Army Chief at a secret meeting in Abu Dhabi last October in a bid to spur Pakistan to take strong action against the Haqqani network, a book has claimed.
But the threat didn't appear to have made the desired impact, according to the book 'Confront and Conceal' by the New York Times journalist David Sanger which hit the stands on Tuesday.
The book depicts President Barack Obama's crisis moments soon after taking over the mantle from George Bush.
Kayani refused to give any guarantee of taking action against Haqqani network, as demanded by the Obama Administration.

Posted by: b | Jun 6 2012 16:11 utc | 12

Panetta is really trying to enrage the Pakistanis

Just two days after a drone strike killed al-Qaida's second-in-command, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made it clear Wednesday that such attacks will continue as long as the U.S. needs to defend itself against terrorists that threaten America.

Speaking in India — on Pakistan's doorstep — Panetta unapologetically dismissed suggestions that the strikes could violate Pakistan's sovereignty.

"This is about our sovereignty as well," he said when answering questions from the audience after a speech at an Indian think tank.

And he was blunt about the difficulties in the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, as insurgents continue to find safe haven there, despite repeated protests from American leaders.

"It's a complicated relationship, often times frustrating, often times difficult," Panetta said. "They have provided some cooperation. There are other times when frankly that cooperation is not there. But the United States cannot just walk away from that relationship. We have to continue to do what we can to try to improve (the) areas where we can find some mutual cooperation."

Posted by: b | Jun 6 2012 17:11 utc | 13

If 10,000 trucks a day are entering the Salang tunnel, that would mean there is a truck entering the tunnel every 8 1/2 seconds give or take. That is simply impossible. Please check your facts.

Posted by: arthurdecco | Jun 6 2012 17:56 utc | 14

No, it is not impossible, it is a recipie for disaster though.

Posted by: Alexander | Jun 6 2012 18:36 utc | 15

I imagine NATO has the airlift capacity to evacuate virtually all its troops out of Afghanistan without too much trouble. But an awful lot of equipment and machinery will have to be left behind.

Shades of Vietnam 1975.

Posted by: lysias | Jun 6 2012 20:58 utc | 16

Coincidentally,Panetta was just talking to the Vietnamese to reopen Cam Ran Bay.

Posted by: dahoit | Jun 7 2012 14:49 utc | 17

CIA gets nod to step up drone strikes in Pakistan
The U.S., frustrated over Pakistan's refusal to crack down on local militants who cross into Afghanistan, is approving strikes that it might have vetoed before.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Expressing both public and private frustration with Pakistan, the Obama administration has unleashed the CIA to resume an aggressive campaign of drone strikes in Pakistani territory over the last few weeks, approving strikes that might have been vetoed in the past for fear of angering Islamabad.

Now, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing sensitive issues, the administration's attitude is, "What do we have to lose?"
"They are trying to send a message: 'If you don't come around, we will continue with our plan, the way we want to do it,' " said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired Pakistani intelligence chief and former senator. It's "superpower arrogance being shown to a smaller state.... But this will only increase the feeling among Pakistanis that the Americans are bent on having their way through force and not negotiation."

Just wait for the blow back ...

Posted by: b | Jun 8 2012 13:01 utc | 18

No add ANOTHER country to U.S. drone targets. The very best U.S. freinds in .. tata ... Libya:

Libyan official: U.S. drones seeking jihadists in Libya

A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.

The revelation follows a failed attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on Tuesday night, which a shadowy jihadist group claimed was to avenge the death of al Qaeda No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi.

The official said that one militant commander operating in Derna, Abdulbasit Azuz, had complained that a drone strike had targeted his training camp in the east of Libya. Last month, there were reports of explosions outside the Derna area in the vicinity of the camps, according to a different source.
As CNN has reported, Azuz is a senior al Qaeda operative and longtime close associate of the group's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was dispatched to Libya from the tribal areas of Pakistan in spring 2011, according to several sources. There, he subsequently recruited fighters.
According to the senior Libyan official, five radical Islamist militant commanders are operating in the Derna area, with 200 to 300 men under their command in the camps.

According to Libyan security sources, within the militant ranks in Derna, there are 20 to 30 hardcore jihadist fighters who are cause for most concern. One source said a number of Egyptian jihadists are also present in the Derna area, as well as fighters belonging to al Qaeda's North African affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

That is blowback from the "liberation" of Libya ... same thing would happen in Syria should the U.S. get its way.

Posted by: b | Jun 8 2012 13:06 utc | 19

Turns out that the agreement is for non-lethal goods only!

Posted by: JohnH | Jun 9 2012 12:11 utc | 20

Why are the last nazi war criminals hiding in Syria? Ohlig & Puim show Islamic extremism came from Syriac monophysates, products of Chrysustolm trying to consummate the Channukah crimes of his Seleucid forefathers. ("Questioning is the subversion of faith" Homily I on I Timothy I- Such was the dark mind that led Justinian to abolish the universities and Olympics and bring on the palgues.) Nesselrode sent Porphy Uspensky to de-Hellenize the Antiochians which led to Michel Aflaq founding the Nazi Ba'ath party which is why Putin hid Saddam's WMD in Syria! The Ochrafux church is a war criminal organization which must be prosecuted!

Posted by: george comney | Jun 14 2012 12:37 utc | 21

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