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Supply-route losses hamper NATO occupation

Published Feb 15, 2009 10:57 PM

The U.S. and its NATO allies face an extremely difficult challenge in Afghanistan. How can they supply the troops they have there?

More troops—the U.S. has floated the idea of an additional 30,000 to 40,000—will mean a bigger challenge.

An overturned truck lies on a destroyed
bridge in the Khyber area near
Peshawar, Pakistan.

Most of the U.S. and NATO supplies come from Pakistan through the Khyber Pass. This is 80 percent of what they use—everything except weapons and ammunition, which come by air. (Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 4).

There is growing resistance in Pakistan to supporting the U.S., and the Afghan resistance has made this treacherous mountain pass a priority target.

Last week, according to the Daily Times of Pakistan, they blew up “a British-era iron bridge near Ali Masjid in Khyber Agency.” The blast was powerful enough to break windows in nearby buildings, but two additions bombs didn’t go off. If they had, the Pakistani authorities would have had a very difficult time replacing a completely destroyed bridge, rather than repairing it.

The day the bomb went off in the Khyber Pass, the Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, announced that Kyrgyzstan would no longer allow the U.S. to use its airbase at Manas, which has been a convenient staging ground for U.S. air shipments destined for northern Afghanistan.

While the U.S. and British press made a big deal of the $2.15 billion aid package that Kyrgyzstan got from Russia, the English-language Russian TV channel RT in a Feb. 7 report concentrated on the rape charges against a U.S. airman, who had diplomatic immunity. RT also interviewed Kyrgyz farmers living near the base who were upset with U.S. planes dumping fuel before they land.

The U.S. currently has permission to move nonlethal supplies through Kyrgyzstan territory, which involves landing them in the Ukraine then transporting the supplies most of the way to Manas by train. The U.S. also uses the Soviet-built airport at Manas for air cargo.

However, given the tense state of relations between the U.S. and Russia, the Pentagon planners want to come up with a logistical scheme that avoids Russia, and of course Pakistan.

One route currently under active consideration starts on Georgia’s Black Sea coast and heads across the Caucasus by rail to Azerbaijan, where supplies would be loaded onto ships to cross the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan. Then they’d be loaded back onto trains. Supplies would go via rail to Termez in Uzbekistan.

While this cumbersome and obviously expensive possible supply route avoids Russia, any number of political changes and permutations could make it untenable, not to mention expensive. Given the current economic crisis, the expense of this operation is the more important factor.

The Sunday Times of London (Feb. 8) reported that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has postponed deciding whether to send an additional 17,000 troops after he couldn’t answer some of President Barack Obama’s questions about an exit strategy.

The U.S. and its imperialist allies are finding it more and more difficult to overcome the resistance to their domination and occupation in Central Asia, or even to reach a satisfactory stalemate.