Tag Archives | NDN

Supplying the US troops in Afghanistan

By NDN routes and more

Since the closure of NATO supply routes via Pakistan (officially called the PAK GLOC) in late November, it has been assumed that the US has compensated for its closure by using the supply routes through Central Asia (officially called the NDN) and by moving supplies through air. While this is indeed true, the details of how it has happened are interesting.

This comes from the testimony [pdf] of General William Fraser, Commander, United States Transportation Command to the US Senate Armed Service Committee.

In 2011 more than 35,000 containers were delivered on the PAK GLOC by surface transportation. When open, the PAK GLOC remains the quickest and most cost-effective route.

The NDN provides an alternative route to the PAK GLOC for sustainment cargo to Afghanistan. Over the past year, we moved an average of 40 percent of all cargo in support of OEF through the NDN’s multiple truck, water, rail, and air routes in an expanding distribution network. … In 2011 a total of 27,000 containers were delivered by surface transportation on the NDN, an increase of 15 percent from 2010.

But what is really interesting is that many stores being flown in to Afghanistan are actually being picked from commercial ports in the neighbourhood. This is how 39 ships were diverted from the Karachi port to Dubai and Aqaba after November.

Multimodal hubs proved invaluable when the PAK GLOC routes were no longer available for use in late November. Several hundred containers from 39 different ships bound for forces in Afghanistan were diverted to Dubai and Aqaba where they were stored and then airlifted as needed into Afghanistan to ensure sustained support to combat operations.

It is, however, not the end of US dependency on Pakistan. More than the need to supply troops in Afghanistan, US needs Pakistan supply routes to bring equipment out of the theatre due to the impending drawdown in Afghanistan.

“With the amount of equipment we need to move … we need the Pakistan GLOC open,” Fraser said. “Because of the large numbers that we are talking about that we need to bring out in a timely manner.”[Army Times]

Of course, Pakistan is equally desperate to reopen the NATO supply routes. Primarily for the financial benefits it brings to the Pakistan Army’s National Logistics council but also to recreate the leeway it had over the US by threatening to shut these routes. With the fig-leaf of a parliamentary approval to reopen these supply lines a given now, it is just a matter of a couple of weeks before things return to the pre-November state.

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The real NATO supply line costs

Shouldn’t all the US aid to Pakistan also be counted towards supply line costs?

The story is a couple of days old but will certainly be quoted by many analysts, particularly in DC and in Islamabad. This AP story says that Pakistan’s closure of supply routes costs US six times more for the new route via Central Asia.

Pentagon figures provided to the AP show it is now costing about $104 million per month to send the supplies through a longer northern route. That is $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.[AP]

More details on the story are at ABC News:

The cost estimate includes the added costs of the combined ground and air movements being used to offset the closed border crossings. …When Pakistan closed the border crossings, only 30 percent of NATO supplies flowed through them, most of it fuel.

…A Defense official says most of the added costs come from the diversion of supplies originally intended to go through Pakistan that now arrive by ship in other countries in the region for eventual air transport into Afghanistan. For example, there is the added cost in diverting some cargo from Pakistani ports to Indian ports where the supplies are either flown into Afghanistan or transported northward by train for delivery through one of the NDN routes.

Additional costs come from the transportation of more materials through the NDN, and the even pricier cost of flowing in supplies on direct flights from the U.S. or Europe into Afghanistan. The direct flights cost ten times what it would cost to transport materials through Pakistan. That is one of the reasons it is the least used option. Transporting materials through the NDN is estimated to be three times the cost of transporting supplies through Pakistan.[ABC]

First the minor quibbles. One, it isn’t clear from the 512 percent increase in monthly costs whether the cost being compared for two different months pertains to the same quantum of supplies. A possibility exists that more supplies may have been moved in to recoup the reserves which would have been consumed in the days immediately after the supply routes were closed by Pakistan. [Update - This was echoed by ISAF Spokesman Brig Gen. Carsten Jacobson: "The critical face in re-adjusting logistics is always in the first weeks. That is obviously past."]

Two, the facts are hidden deep down in the story. Transporting materials through the NDN is estimated to be three times the cost of transporting supplies through Pakistan. And, direct flights to Afghanistan cost ten times of what it would cost to transport materials through Pakistan.

Now to the major question. Money is fungible. US military and civilian aid to Pakistan (not to count CSF payments), before it came to a halt in 2011, was essentially a facilitation fees paid to Pakistan Army to allow supplies to be sent to Afghanistan via Pakistan. If you add the $20 billion paid to Pakistan by the US (excluding CSF payments) since 9/11, the cost of transporting goods via Pakistan would be greater than supplying troops in Afghanistan via alternate routes. Essentially, cutting off aid to Pakistan and using northern supply routes is still cheaper than supplying goods via Pakistan.

The media reports might be overlooking this calculation but the Pentagon certainly isn’t. Amidst reports that Pakistan army is looking at levying an additional $1000 NOC fee per container that is routed via Pakistan after the routes open, the US response seems logical if you see the bigger picture.

U.S. officials say they could manage indefinitely without that access if Pakistan either makes the closure permanent or offers to reopen it under unacceptable conditions.[AP]

Considering the benefits that accrue to Pakistan’s military-business complex by allowing US supplies to move through Pakistan, it is but a matter of time before Pakistan army finds a fig-leaf of an excuse to resume these supply lines. After all, for all the talk about not allowing US drones to operate in Pakistani airspace, US drones have already struck a couple of times in tribal areas in the last two weeks. For once, by not caving in to Pakistani blackmail, the US seems to be playing the carrot-and-stick game rather well with Pakistan. It is, however, a matter of conjecture if the US can play this game long enough, and smartly enough, in a Presidential election year.

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The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan-3

Only 29 percent of NATO supplies come via Pakistan

Previous posts: The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan and The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan-2

From the latest report on Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan (pdf) by the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Since 2009, the United States has steadily increased traffic on the NDN, a major logistical accomplishment that has resulted in a series of commercial air and ground routes that supply NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN. According to U.S. Transportation Command, an estimated 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN, 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan.

The NDN comprises three principal land routes: one stretching from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, through Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and into Central Asia; one from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; and a final route that originates in Latvia and travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and passes into Afghanistan via Tajikistan. An estimated 70 percent of cargo transiting the NDN enters at Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate.

The NDN has allowed the United States to diversify its supply routes into Afghanistan, instead of relying solely on Pakistan for transit. Whereas in 2009, about 90 percent of U.S. non-military supplies for Afghanistan transited through the Pakistani port city of Karachi, today, more non-lethal cargo is shipped to Afghanistan via the NDN than through Pakistan.

The NDN is not a perfect substitute for the current supply routes in Pakistan. The NDN only allows for one-way transit of goods to Afghanistan, though discussions are reportedly underway to expand the NDN to support two-way transit of cargo leaving Afghanistan via the northern routes. The NDN also only allows for the transit of non-lethal supplies, such as cement, lumber, blast barriers, septic tanks, and matting. Sensitive and high-technology equipment is transported by airlift. Moreover, the NDN is not cheap. It costs roughly an additional $10,000 per twenty-foot container to ship via the NDN instead of Pakistan. But airlifting supplies directly into Afghanistan remains the most expensive option, which costs an estimated $40,000 more per twenty-foot container, according to U.S. Transportation Command.

To bring it down from 90 percent of supplies in 2009 to 29 percent now, it has been quite an effort by the US military. As the US forces drawdown in Afghanistan, this dependency on Pakistan will decline further. The reduction of their leverage over the US is an imminent reality which Pakistani generals need to confront.

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The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan

Only 50% of supplies and 30% of petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan come via Pakistan.

In the hullabaloo over the recent closure of one of the transit points at Torkham for NATO supply lines into Afghanistan, it is pretty common for lazy established international news-agencies to throw up some wrong statistics in their reports. Two such erroneous data-points particularly stand out.  One, that nearly 80 percent of NATO supplies for Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. Two, nearly 100 percent of petroleum supplies for NATO forces also traverse through Pakistan. Both are not only wrong, but way off the mark.

Here it is, to put it proverbially, from the horse’s mouth — the September-October 2010 issue of Army Sustainment. Major General Kenneth S Dowd, who was the Director of Logistics at CENTCOM from June 2007 to June 2010 explains:

As June 2010, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has booked over 50 percent of all sustainment heading to Afghanistan on the NDN [Northern Distribution Network, via Central Asia]and has delivered over 11,000 20-foot containers of cargo to Afghanistan through these new northern routes. …We hope to expand the categories of cargo permitted on the NDN and to retain and expand logistics hubs in Central Asia. [Page 6]

This means that only 50 percent of the logistics supplies to Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. More importantly, this has happened when the number of US troops in Afghanistan have increased substantially since 2009. Dowd also clarifies that “Our business rules call for all sensitive or classified cargo to be flown into Afghanistan on military or commercially contracted aircraft.” This means that the Pakistan route, officially called the PAK GLOC, does not transport any sensitive or classified cargo into Afghanistan.

As far as the petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan are concerned, the facts come from another article in the same journal by Colonel Jeffrey B Carra, who was the chief of the Joint Petroleum Office at CENTCOM, and Chief Warrant Officer David Ray:

Since 2002, CENTCOM and its strategic petroleum support partners (DESC since 2002, NATO since 2007) have increased fuel storage capacity in Afghanistan from roughly 100,000 gallons to more than 30 million gallons (with up to 12 million of those gallons in contracted commercial steel-tank facilities) to meet a demand that has grown from 40,000 gallons per day in 2002 to more than 1.1 million gallons per day in 2009.

Starting in 2007, CENTCOM partnered with DESC to shift most petroleum sustainment in Afghanistan away from the Southern GLOC, which enters Afghanistan from Pakistan, to what is known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which enters from the Central Asian States. This change increased the amount of petroleum entering by the NDN from 30 percent to 70 percent of all petroleum sustainment. Coupled with the shift to the NDN, DESC had the forethought to initiate a contract provision with its petroleum suppliers to hold up to 9 million gallons of contractor-owned fuel (as a “commercial reserve”) within Afghanistan to mitigate any ebb and flow in regional fuel distribution.

DESC also increased its Government-owned “strategic reserve” in and around Kabul from 2 to 5 million gallons. The strategic reserve and the commercial reserve together provide a shock absorber capable of withstanding major disruptions to petroleum sustainment. [Page 18]

This means that only 30 percent of petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan come through Pakistan. However, it must be remembered that the logistics route via NDN costs nearly thrice the cost of using the logistics route via Pakistan. Also, it should not be forgotten that the other route from Pakistan into Afghanistan via Chaman is still open for transit.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is no way Pakistan army and GHQ can allow this Al Faida business of logistics supplies via Pakistan to stop, a correct picture of actual NATO supplies transiting through Pakistan would help everyone develop a clearer perspective on the situation.

Of course, it is another matter altogether that this may be the first war the US has fought, where it pays not only its own men, but the enemy as well.

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