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U.S.-Pakistan Freeze Chokes Fallback Route in Afghanistan
Posted by The Agonist on June 3rd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Rod Nordland | Salang Pass | Jun 3

NYT – Nowhere is the impact of Pakistan’s ban on NATO truck traffic more visible than here at the top of the Hindu Kush, on one of the only alternative overland routes for supply convoys to reach Kabul and the rest of the country.

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, one-and-a-half-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 are often 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 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 was trailer and tanker trucks carrying NATO supplies.

The tunnel near the top of this 12,000-foot pass is so narrow — no more than 20 feet across at the base, and less toward the top — that the heavily laden trucks often jam as they try to pass one another, lodging in tightly against the sloping, rough-hewn walls. The trucks have to be winched apart and dragged out by heavy equipment.

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