Logistics: The Weak Link In Afghanistan

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January 7, 2014: In late 2013 the U.S. Army completed $20 million worth of repairs to the Salang tunnel in Afghanistan. This tunnel makes the Salang pass useable when deep snow usually makes it impossible for wheeled traffic to get over the Hindu Kush Mountains. The 2,560 meter (1.6 mile) long Salang tunnel is at an altitude of 3,385 meters (11,000 feet).

A decade ago the Salang tunnel, a key link in north-south road traffic underwent major repairs. The tunnel was built by the Russians in 1964 and proved an enormous economic benefit as it cut transportation costs enormously throughout eastern Afghanistan. But until 2003 it had gone twenty years with little maintenance and suffered much damage, mostly from heavy use, in the meantime.

The tunnel had been under even heavier use since the NATO began shifting their supply lines from the Pakistani port of Karachi to the railroads of Central Asia. The United States has created a supply line running through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. NATO and the U.S. negotiated with Russia to allow supplies to move to Afghanistan via Russian rail lines and those of Central Asian nations. These only go as far as the Afghan border because there are no railroads in Afghanistan. Thus, from the Uzbek border, the freight containers are trucked south to where most of the U.S. and NATO troops are stationed. By 2011, about 40 percent of supplies were arriving via the "Northern Distribution Network." The U.S. wanted to eventually move all truck cargo via the northern route but the roads going north, especially the one through the Salang tunnel, were not able to handle it. Moreover, the Russians and other nations controlling parts of the rail network got greedy and kept demanding higher transit fees. Meanwhile the Salang tunnel has been taking a beating and the U.S. didn’t trust the Afghans to handle the repairs so American forces took over and got it done. The latest refurbishment repaved the road, patched up the tunnel ceiling and walls, installed new lights and ventilation system.

 

 


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