Supplying NATO Forces in Afghanistan

I see that more attention is being paid these days to the subject I’ve been talking about for several years now, the difficulties of supplying a large force in Afghanistan:

The U.S. military is laboring to shore up a vulnerable supply chain through Pakistan and Central Asia as it seeks to expand the flow of supplies into Afghanistan by at least 50 percent to support an influx of tens of thousands of troops, according to defense officials and experts.

One new link is now undergoing testing with the first shipment of U.S. military nonlethal cargo through Russia, officials said. That cargo has already crossed into Kazakhstan on its way to Afghanistan, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Escalating attacks on supply convoys in Pakistan, the anticipated closure in less than six months of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan — the last remaining American air hub in Central Asia — and slow progress in opening up the northern supply route into Afghanistan have added urgency to the effort to strengthen the logistical backup for the troop increase, they said.

“If you ask me what I worry about at night, it is the fact that our supply chain is always under attack,” said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander of the U.S. military’s Transportation Command, in testimony last week that focused on Afghanistan.

The closing of the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, our only air base in Central Asia, which is almost certain to occur within the next six months, will prove troubling. A replacement in Uzbekistan has been suggested as has the “northern route” overland through Russia. Those continue to be in the talking stages.

There’s also been some talk of negotiating with Iran for an overland route through that country. Although I’m in favor of negotiating with Iran on a wide range of topics, I think that proposal is far-fetched.

You be the general. Figure out how many soldiers you want to supply in Afghanistan. A reasonable working figure for supply seems to be about 50 kg. per soldier per day (it may be more). How do you supply your force?

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, General, , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    How do you supply your force?

    I supply them by bringing them back to the US.

    Ask the Russians and the British how they were able to pull this off.

    Obama is a complete idiot for wanting to escalate troop presence in that god-forsaken country. There is a reason why this place is known as the site “where Empires come to die.”

    Thanks a lot Hussein.

  2. Brett says:

    You be the general. Figure out how many soldiers you want to supply in Afghanistan. A reasonable working figure for supply seems to be about 50 kg. per soldier per day (it may be more). How do you supply your force?

    Man, looking at Afghanistan, that’s a seriously ugly problem – at least Iraq had a seaport or two.

    So, let’s say 75,000 troops at 50 kg equals 3.75 million kg of kit (or 3750 metric tons). Per day.

    I don’t really see any choice other than detaching additional men and people to cover massive convoys going through the Khyber Pass. The other options suck; they either involve going through China or Russia to get to the other Central Asian states surrounding Afghanistan, or going through Iran.

    But how much can your garden-variety military transport truck carry?

  3. Michael says:

    I’d fly the guns in, and hire Pakistanis to transport the rest.

  4. Eric Blair says:

    The standard US truck is a 5-ton truck, supposedly able to carry 20,000 pounds on a highway and 10,000 cross country. I’m pretty sure the MSR through Pakistan is actually paved, so would count as a highway.

    1 kilogram = 2.20462262 pounds

    So, 20,000/2.2 = about 9091kg. or 9.091 metric tons. 3750/9.091 =about 412 trucks.

    The real kick here is that it isn’t the Army doing most of this driving, its Pakistani truckers and civilian rigs, which may or may not be tractor-trailer set ups which can carry more stuff. But its already hundreds of trucks per day.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s the approach we’re taking now, Michael, and there’s little reason to believe it’s scalable. 160 drivers have already been killed. Finding new drivers is getting harder and more costly.

  6. Michael says:

    160 drivers have already been killed. Finding new drivers is getting harder and more costly.

    Okay, then fly in the guns and buy everything else from Pakistan, or the Afghans themselves for that matter.

  7. DC Loser says:

    The only thing the Afghans can adequately supply is the opium.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    DC Loser’s comment is snarky but accurate. Both the Afghans and Pakistanis are mostly subsistence farmers. In a good year they have enough to feed themselves, little more. That’s the reason we need to bring everything in.

  9. Brett says:

    If we’re going all-in on the truck route via Pakistan, couldn’t we organize much better protection on those convoys? I’m thinking air coverage, plus monitoring patrols along the route, so they can intercept any potential movement towards the roads ASAP.

    Or, alternatively (since we may be in for the long haul), we could ask Pakistan if we could build a railroad line straight from Karachi, drill through any barriers in the south of Afghanistan, and run the sucker right into Kandahar.

  10. Triumph says:

    That’s the reason we need to bring everything in.

    More accurately, that’s the reason we need to bring EVERYBODY OUT.

    I love these comments about just “trucking stuff in”–people don’t understand: THERE IS NO INFRASTRUCTURE IN AFGHANISTAN. You need passable and safe roads to equip a force the size Hussein wants to put in there.

    Rumsfeld was right: we couldn’t bomb them back to the stone age since they are already in the stone age.

    Hussein faces the exact same challenges as Major-General Elphinstone did–and we all know how that worked out.

    Lets remember that Hussein is a neophyte when it comes to military issues. Any military scheme he concocts is the product of extreme ignorance and
    will likely not work.

    Unfortunately for our troops, Hussein only cares about his own poll numbers. He is willing to sacrifice their service for his selfish liberal notions.

  11. Michael says:

    If we’re going all-in on the truck route via Pakistan, couldn’t we organize much better protection on those convoys? I’m thinking air coverage, plus monitoring patrols along the route, so they can intercept any potential movement towards the roads ASAP.

    Won’t work very well against road-side bombs or mines. Even small-scale hit and run attacks would be hard to respond to, let alone prevent. We could always build a new road through the middle of nowhere.

    Or, alternatively (since we may be in for the long haul), we could ask Pakistan if we could build a railroad line straight from Karachi, drill through any barriers in the south of Afghanistan, and run the sucker right into Kandahar.

    Rail is even easier to sabotage. And if the conductor can get the train stopped without derailing it, now it’s a sitting target instead of a moving one.

  12. Michael says:

    Triumph’s troll aside, he’s right. If we can’t re-supply our troops, we need to get them out, or at least move them to somewhere were we can resupply them.

  13. Triumph says:

    Triumph’s troll aside, he’s right. If we can’t re-supply our troops, we need to get them out, or at least move them to somewhere were we can resupply them.

    Dude, its not a “troll.”

    During the election, Hussein used the idea of an Afghan “surge” as a way to tap into American discontent about Bush/Iraq without seeming like a limp-wristed liberal wimp.

    The real questions that need to be addressed are these:

    1) What are our objectives in Afghanistan?
    2) What is the the most effective and efficient way of achieving those objectives?

    The “surge” was a cynical campaign ploy that was concocted without an actual analysis of the strategic imperative as it relates to Afghanistan.

    An honest reckoning with the aforementioned questions would yield a much different response than the insanity that Hussein is pushing now.

    This is shaping up to be a rerun of LBJ & Nam.

  14. Grewgills says:

    You be the general. Figure out how many soldiers you want to supply in Afghanistan. A reasonable working figure for supply seems to be about 50 kg. per soldier per day (it may be more).

    How do you come by that number? I just talked to a friend that was in supply and that number seemed quite high to him as well.
    You need in the range of 30-35 pounds (~4 gallons) of water per day per man, but you should be able to get at least some of that locally.
    Assuming the average soldier goes through ~200 rounds a day (it is probably lower), that would be a bit over 5lbs.
    A typical MRE is about a pound. Call it 5lbs a day in food that has to be shipped in.
    Various replacement parts and gas do add up, but 110lbs a day per person seems really high.

    The problem is real, but I think the scale is less than stated here.

  15. markm says:

    You need in the range of 30-35 pounds (~4 gallons) of water per day per man

    Are you talking strictly potable water for drinking or does that include hygene, etc.?. I make a lot of water related support products for the military and while they are thrifty with their use of water 4 gallons/day/soldier seems way low. These units:
    http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123011649
    (which is the latest and greatest base configuration)include shower units, latrine units as well as laundry cleaning to go along with water heaters and water purifiers and a kitchen. Boots on the ground use a lot of everything but in hot locations they really use a lot of potable water and water in general.

  16. Grewgills says:

    Are you talking strictly potable water for drinking or does that include hygene, etc.

    The 4 gall is the recommended amt for drinking in arid climates. It was the amount recommended for field exercises in W TX. I am told that in practice a fair amount less is drunk. I would think that water for other uses could be supplied locally with minimal filtration. I would also think that a fair amount of the potable water could be filtered for use on site as well.
    There water issues in Afghanistan, but I think an additional 30-50K could be supported on the available resources, assuming on site filtration.

    The only way I can see to get up to near 110lbs/person/day is shipping all water to be used for all purposes.

  17. DC Loser says:

    Gregwills,

    The only people eating MREs are those deployed to the remote firebases. The Main Operating Bases like Bagram are entire cities. Have you seen what’s available at the dining halls? How about what AAFES brings in to sell to the troops?

  18. Michael says:

    Maybe we should just supply our Afghan forces with a herd of cows and goats. Hire local hands to take care of them, use some, barter some, etc.

  19. markm says:

    I would think that water for other uses could be supplied locally with minimal filtration.

    I would also think that a fair amount of the potable water could be filtered for use on site as well

    It all comes down to a source. If you’ve got a pond/lake/marsh (of adequate size) or a river…you’ve got potable/non-potable water. If you don’t have a source of water…I can’t see bringing in all the water necessary. Those BEAR kits I linked to above are self sustaining bases but you have to have a water source.

  20. markm says:

    Have you seen what’s available at the dining halls?

    Get a little farther away from the action and they airdrop in containerized fast food (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC, etc.)

  21. Grewgills says:

    Have you seen what’s available at the dining halls?

    MREs are calorie dense, but that still doesn’t change things that much. Assuming 3000 calories/day we are talking about 6lbs of food per day. If we assume that they get all 3000 calories from broccoli or similarly calorie dense food that is still less than 20lbs. I still think that 110lbs is way high unless all water is shipped in and the troops are taking long showers.

  22. markm says:

    I still think that 110lbs is way high unless all water is shipped in and the troops are taking long showers

    A one minute shower is 7 gallons of water.

  23. Grewgills says:

    It seems that even bottled water is now being supplied locally.
    Given that I would be surprised if most water needs were not being met within Afghanistan.
    Afghanistan does have water issues and is currently in the midst of a drought, but it according to UNEP there is plenty of water (they are using less than 1/3 available). The water problem is clean drinking water and getting water to more remote areas of the country. The military can filter the available water to supply themselves and others. That leaves a water transport issue, but that is transport within and not into the country.

    That leads me back to my original question; how does one arrive at 110lbs/day/person?

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    Y’all are beating around the wrong bush. Most of what is transported is fuel. Our military uses an average of 16 gallons of fuel per day per soldier in Afghanistan.

  25. Michael says:

    Y’all are beating around the wrong bush. Most of what is transported is fuel. Our military uses an average of 16 gallons of fuel per day per soldier in Afghanistan.

    Hmmm, I wonder if we can make ethanol from poppy. Or maybe offer a more valuable cash-crop for Afghan farmers.

  26. Grewgills says:

    Y’all are beating around the wrong bush. Most of what is transported is fuel. Our military uses an average of 16 gallons of fuel per day per soldier in Afghanistan.

    I thought that it would be considerably lower than that (maybe 5-7 gall). Just curious, where did you get the 16 gall/day from? I just did a little poking around and what I found indicated that DLE estimates were around 9 gall/soldier/day but that the figure could be understated and the actual amount was closer to 12 gall/soldier/day. Those numbers would indicate 61.7 lbs/day to 82.2 lbs/day assuming an even mix of diesel and jet fuel. If 12 gall is correct, I would guess that 100-110 lbs/day would be a reasonable assumption. I’m not sure additional troops scale up fuel usage on a 1:1 basis, but I have no better assumption to work with.
    That said, it appears that supply has been optimized about as much as it is likely to be and without a northern route it will be rough to continue supply at current levels. I see no good way around it outside of cooperation with Russia since I don’t think it likely to get a favorable basing arrangement with another —–stan. I would guess that was a big part of Russia’s calculus when negotiating for Manas. Now cooperation there could sub for cooperation vs Iran when negotiating missile defense etc.