Logistics: Roads And The Fate Of Afghanistan


December 10,2008: Afghanistan is the poorest nation in Asia. The place is mostly mountains and desert, has no railroads and few roads (42,000 kilometers worth, and only 29 percent are paved.) There are few rivers, much less navigable ones, and no access to the sea. In other words, a logistical nightmare. And not just for modern armies. The ancients suffered as well, as they depended on living off the local population. But most Afghans live in mountain valleys, or along the few rivers, and tend to be self-sufficient. Not enough plunder for a really large army. Even the Mongols, who came by and hosed the place (at least what they could reach) pretty good, brought with them more horses than warriors (each had several), and could not always find enough pasturage for their mounts. A lot of places in Afghanistan avoided the Mongol invasion simply because the formidable horsemen could not graze their way to the remote mountain valleys.

The Russian general staff warned against the 1980 invasion of Afghanistan, mainly because there was no way to support the typically large mechanized force the Russians preferred to use to roll over the opposition. The Russians could never supply more than 150,000 troops in relatively roadless Afghanistan, and lost ten percent of those troops to disease and privation, rather than combat.

So NATO and U.S. forces are big on building roads in Afghanistan. Not just to make it easier to get around, but also to make Afghans wealthier. Many parts of Afghanistan produce valuable produce, and there are many unexploited natural resources under the ground. But if you can't get the exotic fruits, or valuable ores, out of the country, you stay poor. Most Afghans want more roads, especially paved roads. The latter are also more difficult to use mines roadside bombs on. The Taliban do not want roads. Not just because it makes it easier for government or foreign troops to get around, but also because roads bring new ideas, as well as wealth. The Taliban are content to get rich off the heroin trade, and keep new ideas out by attacking road building projects. Protecting the road builders has become a major military operation, and potentially a decisive one.


Article Archive

Logistics: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close