More on post-Host Nation Trucking in Afghanistan from “Mohammad Jawad” in Kabul. Reporting for Afghanistan Today, Jawad notes that by the middle of 2012 3,515 logistics companies had been registered with the Afghan Investment Support Agency, but this has not brought an end to the monopolies and insider-dealing of the old contracts: ‘Most contracts at the giant US base at Bagram go to a handful of companies, including one run by a former interior minister.’ A primary focus of their operations continues to be supplying fuel to the military:
‘The amount of fuel needed to power the war machine is vast and it now mainly arrives at Hairatan from Uzbekistan by train in 60-ton or 110-ton wagons. “The amounts arriving at night differ, but usually it is 70 to 100 wagons coming for ISAF but only 30 to 35 wagons for civilian use,” said an Afghan oil trader at the port. A 16-ton tanker load of fuel moved from Hairatan to Jalalabad for civilian clients earns hauliers 700-800 US dollars, according to insiders. But ISAF pays up to 220 dollars per ton, meaning the same load earns contractors around 3,500 dollars if delivered for the military.’
For ‘sensitive supplies’ (including fuel) in particularly dangerous areas like Helmand the US military provides an escort:
US Marines escort 35 Afghan trucks through northern Helmand, July 2011 [US Department of Defense/Sgt Rachael Moore]
US Marines escort a fuel convoy outside FOB Edinburgh, Helmand, September 2011 [US Department of Defense/Cpl Michael Augusto]
But security for much of the supply chain continues to be privatized. Jawad again:
‘”There is no single approach for securing convoys, it varies,” said a company owner. “In some secure areas, no one is paid protection money because companies have shareholders and allies who are warlords, which ensures the convoys safely reach their destinations. In other areas, people use private security companies that have links with the Taliban, and they pay them not to touch the loads.”
The re-opening of the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication has been uneven. Border crossings into Afghanistan were closed to NATO convoys in November 2011 and re-opened on 5 July 2012 – but the Torkham Gate at the Khyber Pass closed again on 24 July after an insurgent attack killed one driver and injured another. Trans-border shipments were resumed a fortnight later (on 5 August) under paramilitary escort. Cargoes are supposed to be restricted to non-lethal supplies, and trucks crossing at Torkham were inspected to ensure that they carried no weapons. Even so, now that the border has re-opened the black market in arms and other military supplies is picking up. An arms dealer from Quetta told Amir Laatif that business had really suffered during the closure, “But, thank God, things have been settled down, and we are going to reactivate our business.” Although prices shot up during the closure, dealers had little stock on hand, but now they believe “Good days are back.”
Yet many of the black-market US-made weapons circulating in Pakistan have crossed the other way: intelligence sources estimate that more than 70 per cent originate from Afghan smugglers who buy them from soldiers in the Afghan National Army or members of the Afghan National Police.
And soon NATO supplies will be flowing the other way too. Much of logistics planning by the military is now geared towards reverse-engineering the supply chain as the draw-down of NATO forces accelerates. Working from what they call the Reset Playbook, Graham Bowley reports the Pentagon reckons it ‘will have to wrangle 100,000 shipping containers of material and 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles like tanks and Humvees from all across Afghanistan.’ There have already been complaints from front-line troops that the roll-back is disrupting combat operations. Rob Taylor for Reuters quotes one officer: “It’s a nightmare. We barely have enough guys to cover our area, let alone get ready to pack up.” For that reason it is possible – in fact likely – that in the short term more troops will be sent to Afghanistan to clean, pack and ship equipment back. But they also plan to ship all weapons, ammunition and other ‘sensitive equipment’ out by air, so the arms dealers may yet be disappointed .