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Kyhber Pass logistics and Karachi
Posted by on September 22nd, 2010

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By Dave Anderson:

Pat Lang (a retired US Army colonel) is thinking logistics.  He notes that the US military is reliant on a massive, slow, chockful of chokepoint supply line to move bulk supplies from Karachi to Peshwar and then through the Khyber Pass before they arrive at the main US logistics hubs near Kabul.  The Afghan and Pakistani Talibans as well as run of the mill economic bandits have been harassing this route for years but they possess the ability in his opinion to squeeze this route.

"…The Taliban have the military capacity to shut down the NATO
supply links to Pakistan and other adjoining countries."  Nasuti


I have been saying for years that supply line interdiction is the
greatest danger to our forces deployed in places like Iraq and
Afghanistan in the midst of potentially hostile populations.

The Pakistani Taliban has been crimping the throughput of US supplies through Karachi-Peshwar-Khtber for a while now.  Large scale attacks have occurred and entire convoys have been captured or burned.  Bridges in the Khyber Pass have been blown, culverts cut, depots raided and tunnels attacked.  The supply routes are much more vulnerable in the winter as the network contracts because most roads become naturally impassible and sabotage is easier to execute. 

However, the US supply lines are also Taliban cash lines.  The supply line is so large, crates routinely "fall off the back of a truck" and find their way into anti-government fighters hands or friendly markets to raise cash.  

The anti-government insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan continued
to grow as the US poured more money into each respective nation.  The
crumbs that fell off the US funded gravy train were more than sufficient
to arm and sustain fighters who were able to deny the US its maximalist
objectives.  The more we spend in Afghanistan, the more crumbs we
generate, and the more the Taliban and other anti-government and anti-US
groups can raise.  It is a nasty positive feedback loop…

The US has the ability to airlift enough supplies into Afghanistan to avoid seeing any forward outpost starve or run out of ammunition.  However airlift is expensive, and limited in its ability to move bulk goods like armored vehicles and aviation fuel.  Without a steady stream of replacement vehicles and with limited helicopter support, more and more US bases would be forced to adapt a defensive posture with local foot patrolling to keep mortar teams on their toes but they would be unwilling or unable to conduct offensive presence patrols into disputed civilian territory as US infantry would be deprived of their fire support and thus forced to fight on much closer to even terms with Afghan guerrillas.  And there would go the last figment of the kinder, gentler, population-centric war that the Very Serious People think will work.  

Completely cutting the Karachi-Peshwar-Khyber supply line only makes sense for Afghan anti-government armed groups if their leadership believes that the US is making significant political gains and the Karzai government gains legitimacy.  Until then, cutting those routes means cutting off a significant cash source while not displacing US forces from their firebases.  

However, the Pakistani Taliban may be willing to attack the US/NATO/ISAF supply lines if the situation in Karachi gets out of control.  Karachi's population of 16 million people is roughly 25% Pashto speaking, and 75% Urdu speakers.  There are significant tensions between these groups.  The Urdu speaking MQM party is increasingly hardlining, including suggesting the Pakistani military should overthrow the civilian government.  The recent killing of an exiled MQM leader has sparked another round of rioting in Karachi that included significant targeting of Pashtun communities and interests. 

Four million Pashtuns in Karachi could shut down the city and its port quite readily.  More importantly, the rural Pashtuns along the supply routes could see that it is in their interest to cut a support for the federal government (money received from the US for allowing supplies to go through) if the federal government either fails to intervene or officially joins in on Pashtun bashing in Karachi.  If that is the case, the US reaction of increased airlift and decreased operations tempo is merely a second order impact to the situation. 

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