Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Northern Distribution Network update

The Northern Distribution Network began being implemented in early 2009, as the Obama Administration moved into the White House, although it had been on the Pentagon's drawing boards for some time.  By the fall of 2009, the Pentagon had established a whole network of agreements and logistics operations in Central Asia.  A thorough rundown of the years developments was given by Cornelius Graubner in the September 1st issue of John Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst:
In January the Commander of the U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus announced that transit agreements had been signed with Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In March, it transpired that the Uzbek government had allowed U.S. soldiers to be transferred to Afghanistan via the German base at Termez in Luftwaffe planes, and May saw the establishment of a de-facto U.S. supply hub at the Uzbek airport of Navoi using a South Korean transport firm as proxy. In June, it was announced that the lease agreement for the U.S. base in at Manas in Kyrgyzstan would be extended after earlier announcements that the Americans would have to leave in August, and finally in July it became public knowledge that the U.S. Air Force was running a small refuelling and resupply operation at an unspecified location in Turkmenistan.
This was just in time for the Obama Administration's "Afghanistan war debate" that took place in the fall of 2009, where the White House and the Pentagon tussled over the desired size of the military footprint that was to fight the war.  Thorough descriptions of this debate are given in Bob Woodward's Obama Wars and Michael Hastings The Operators.  The run down: When Obama assumed office, the U.S. had 34,000 troops in Afghanistan.  Within months, he had made small steps to bolster U.S. efforts in the war, agreeing to add another 21,000 troops, and then firing the General in charge of the war, David Mckiernan, and replacing him with General Stanley McChrystal.  By the fall of 2009, McChrsytal and his higher-ups in the Pentagon wanted another installment of troops, in order to implement a limited counter-insurgency strategy, and push back an expected collapse of the U.S. war effort.  Through a skilled bureaucratic and public relations campaign, top officials like McChrystal, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Patreus, then head of Central Command, pigeonholed Obama in to giving them their desired 40,000 troop escalation.  The White House, however, never budged on approving a full-on counterinsurgency campaign, and rightfully so, as the militaries own counter-insurgency manual puts the required troops needed for a successful counter-insurgency operation at 500,000+, a number currently unimaginable to Washington and the rest of the NATO capitals.

But regardless, in its first year in office the Obama Administration had tripled the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, from 34,000 to over 100,000, and concurrently had established a new northern supply network through Central Eurasia.  By the fall of 2010, when the escalation in Afghanistan was complete, nearly a third of the cargo the military supplied to Afghanistan was going through the Northern Distribution Network.  By December 2011, this had increased to nearly 75% of ground supplies, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report.  Overall at that time, 40% of all cargo went through the NDN, 31% was shipped by air, and the remaining 29% transited through Pakistan.

And in order to secure this access, the U.S. government began to shower gifts on the autocratic governments of Central Eurasia.  Military aid to the region, authorized as part of the Pentagon's yearly NDAA bill, increased from $1.2 million in 2008 to $1.6 billion in 2010, topping out at $1.69 billion in 2011.  The largest share of these funds go to Uzbekistan, a primary hub in the operation.  Perhaps more importantly, the 2010 bill added sweeping new language that further sweetened the military supply pot.  A January 2010 report from the website Eursasianet.org (run by the Open Society Institute), lays out the changes:

Recent modifications to Section 1223 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 indicate that the United States is prepared to lavish funds on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Turkmenistan, in order to expedite the troop surge.
According to the revisions, "certain coalition nations" providing "logistical, military, and other support," will be eligible for "reimbursements." The Pentagon has a reserve fund of $1.6 billion that it can tap into for programs falling under Section 1223 initiatives. Section 1223 assistance can also take the form of "specialized training to personnel" of Central Asian states, or "the procurement and provision of supplies to that nation in connection with such operations."
In effect, the Pentagon could loan "specialized equipment" to Central Asian states that it never intended to recover. Section 1223 revisions note that equipment loans would be made on "a non-reimbursable basis." Department of Defense representatives have declined to comment on the Section 1223 revisions.   
MoveOne Logistics
All of these provisions, however, do not guarantee swift transport, and consequently the NDN is a slow, rickety beast of an operation.  According to documents from MoveOne Logistics., a major military logistics company, the trip from Latvia's Baltic Sea port of Riga to the Afghan-Uzbek border takes 30 days, as does the trip from Aktau, Khazakstan's Caspian port to the same border.  These are the two main routes of the NDN--a northern route from Riga, through Russia and Kazakhstan to Uzebkistan, and a Southern route from the Georgian port of Poti across the Caucasus and the Caspian to Aktau, Kazakhstan, and then down to Uzbekistan.  A third route, known as the Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, Tajikistan (KKT), is more secure, but has a longer transit time.

And these time tables certainly don't take into account the large delays that are routine in the Southern Uzbek city of Termez, which now finds itself as a bottleneck in two major logistics paths in the U.S. war effort .  Accordingly, the process in Termez has become slow and corrupt.  Internal Pentagon documents from 2010, obtained by a FOIA request, describe a shady deal.  Private logistics companies bidding on fuel transport contracts from Uzbekistan stated with without a "speed-up fee" the rail journey from Bukhara, Uzbekistan to Hairaton Afghanistan "takes up to 35 days," but that with “payment of informal fees, the time can be reduced to 7 to 18 days, (depending on amount of money paid).”  Another company noted that the Uzbek railways often shuts down service to afghanistan for a period each month, due to the massive backlog of freight.  Truck transport from Europe is even slower. Glenn Paxton, an officer at the Defense Logistics Agency, told Stars and Stripes newspaper, "From the time an order is placed to the time of delivery it takes on average about 75 days."

The newest development of the NDN is that it is being used in reverse, that is, to ship cargo out of Afghanistan as the U.S. forces drawdown.  On February 29th, 2012, FMN Logistics, a major Pentagon contractor in Central Asia, sent a convoy of trucks

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