Belmont Club

The logistical tether

An Army Travels on Its StomachReaders of the old Belmont Club site will remember this post on the logistical problems inherent in moving large numbers of men into Afghanistan. I wrote in February 2008, “One factor rarely mentioned in describing Afghan logistical problems or considered in relation to Barack Obama’s assertion that Afghanistan should have absorbed troops bound for Iraq is that the theater is landlocked and accessible to the sea only through Pakistan and Iran. There are in fact serious concerns that troops in Afghanistan can be cut off should a hostile regime emerge in Pakistan.” Well logistics has now come front and center, not simply because of the political changes in Pakistan, where Benazir’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari is poised to take power, but because of the upheaval in Georgia. The Times Online reports that Russia is threatening to cut off a vital supply route to Afghanistan.

Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia. The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year. …

The need for an alternative route was highlighted by recent attacks on Nato supply convoys, including one that destroyed 36 fuel tankers in a northwestern Pakistani border town in March. Four US helicopter engines worth $13 million (£7 million) went missing on the way from Kabul to Pakistan in April. Last week militants killed ten French soldiers on the same route 30 miles from Kabul. Western officials fear that such attacks could increase in the power vacuum in Pakistan created by the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as President last week and the collapse of the coalition Government yesterday.

Zardari, according to the Telegraph, declared himself as suffering from “a range of psychiatric illnesses, including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. … Stephen Reich, a psychiatrist from New York State, said Mr Zardari was unable to recall the birthdays of his wife and children and had thought about suicide.” This is the man who will henceforth not only influence the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but also ensure that beans and bullets flow to the troops in Afghanistan.

Those who were unhappy with the campaign in Iraq could at least content themselves knowing it put American troops in a strategic part of the world, both with regard to energy supplies and as the cradle of Islam. But a campaign based on “getting Osama” Bin Laden in the Back of Beyond,  which the Russians, Iranians and Pakistanis can get to throttle through their control of logistics, illustrates the weakness of Obama’s strategic conception. The strategic center of gravity of the current world crisis has never been properly articulated either by GWB or BHO. “Freedom”, “hope” and “change” are not really cogent plans of action. They are guideposts to action, but not plans of action in themselves.

Tip Jar.