Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Logistical Troubles for the US Military

One of the largest logistical headaches probably belongs to the US Military.  Troops are spread far and wide (often in less than friendly places), and soldiers constantly need a diverse range of goods, from gasoline to toiletries to bedding.  In light of extremely heightened tensions between the United States and Pakistan, the military has had to do some work on their logistical plans to get goods to soldiers in Afghanistan.

I had always assumed that goods were simply air dropped to the location that needed them.  However, due to the huge cost of air dropping ($14,000 for each ton of goods), most goods are shipped to port cities and trucked to the necessary locations.  For years, nearly 90% of goods being shipped to military bases in Afghanistan arrived in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan.  From there, the goods were transported by truck north from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

If the US military had been caught off guard when Pakistan closed its borders to NATO and the US military in the last week, huge logistical issues and shortages could have plagued US bases in Afghanistan.  Luckily, the military began working on new logistical shipping routes months ago.  Currently, the US military has successfully moved 40% of all goods transportation to one of several northern routes.  These routes use countries bordering the Baltic Sea and Black Sea (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Georgia) as ports and then transport goods south through Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan before arriving in Afghanistan.  While these northern distribution routes are nearly double the cost of shipping through Pakistan, it is far safer and less reliant on Pakistan/US relations.

Unfortunately, NATO has been far less lucky.  60% of NATO supplies to the area travel through Pakistan, and they had taken no steps in the last year to move these supply chains or create back up routes.  It can be assumed that they are taken steps currently to shift their distribution routes north, but it is unclear whether good shortages will plague NATO forces around Pakistan.

It is also interesting to note that the United States military has a longstanding policy that stipulates that a 45 day supply of fuel has to constantly be present in Afghanistan.  This ensures that troops would never be completely reliant on good relations between Pakistan and the United States.

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