Border Woes

by Joshua Foust on 11/19/2008 · 1 comment

Interesting news from Bannu, in the NWFP:

A suspected American missile bombarded a village deep inside Pakistani territory Wednesday, officials said, marking what appears to be the first time the U.S. has struck beyond the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

Six alleged militants were killed.

Hours after the strike, a large Islamist political party warned it would block two major supply routes for U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan that run through Pakistan unless the attacks ended.

I can’t fathom why that would happen (it has nothing to do with that pesky “population centric” thing I think some guy talked about once). But let it be said: the dangers and challenges posed by running so many American supplies through Pakistan are not new to readers of, even if it might be to the Washington Post:

TORKHAM, Afghanistan, Nov. 18 — A rise in Taliban attacks along the length of a vital NATO supply route that runs through this border town in the shadow of the Khyber Pass has U.S. officials seeking alternatives, including the prospect of beginning deliveries by a tortuous overland journey from Europe…

The growing danger has forced the Pentagon to seek far longer, but possibly safer, alternate routes through Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to Defense Department documents. A notice to potential contractors by the U.S. Transportation Command in September said that “strikes, border delays, accidents and pilferage” in Pakistan and the risk of “attacks and armed hijackings” in Afghanistan posed “a significant risk” to supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan.

September, eh? In March, Nathan wrote about Termez as the growing centerpiece of the latest Uzbek-U.S. thaw. First, the U.S. was granted limited access to the Termez airbase, and then in April I noticed that plans has moved on to a supposed rail crossing.

We still have our doubts that will work out. Even with Russia’s agreement to allow rail transit of its territory (assuming that isn’t up for re-negotiation after the Russo-Georgian War), Uzbekistan poses enormous hurdles beyond the political… to say nothing of the complete lack of railways inside Afghanistan.

Oh well, at least it’s not Churchill, Manitoba.

Other essential reading on this topic should include Péter Marton, who has covered this issue quite well here, here, and here, as but a few examples.

Final thought: is anyone else deeply disturbed that such a critical logistical weakness never seemed to have drawn anyone’s attention in the Pentagon, especially since rocket attacks at Torkham have been a fairly regular occurrence since, oh, 2006 or so?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Peter November 20, 2008 at 4:50 am

For what it’s worth, the head of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization Nikolai Bordyuzha said in late September that Russia had no plans to stop transiting non-lethal cargo for the coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The conditions under which this material is transported have been hammered out in deals between NATO and CSTO members Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, it is hard to conceive of any real reason that Russia would want to break off this agreement, Georgian conflict notwithstanding.
The issue of when the U.S. was warning contractors about security concerns in Pakistan seems unrelated to this and any other Russian-Central Asian transit arrangements, since it is clear that Western allies have always sought multiple route options.
Another example is the lingering speculation that Turkmenistan may accommodate some kind of NATO facility, which would again probably be limited to strictly non-military functions were it to come into existence; which is highly unlikely anyway in my view.

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