US explores Pakistan supply route alternatives
WASHINGTON (PAN): A shutdown of the supply routes that run through Pakistan would pose problems for the US military but would not halt Afghan operations, according to the Army's chief logistics officer.
"We would overcome it," Army Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, deputy chief of staff for logistics, told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee during Wednesday hearing. "It would not stop Afghanistan operations, but it would be a challenge."
Several lawmakers have voiced concern about the US relationship with Pakistan following the capture of Osama bin Laden. A key part of that relationship is Pakistan's permission for the US to move supplies for Afghanistan through the country. If those supply routes were shut down for any reason, lawmakers wanted to know what would happen.
The Army keeps 45 days worth of fuel on the ground in Afghanistan so that operations can withstand severe disruptions to its supply lines, Stevenson said.
If the southern routes were shut down, the US would increase its use of airdrops and flow more in from the north. However, that route takes much longer and is more expensive, Stevenson said.
Smaller disruptions already frequently delay the delivery of supplies. For example, a sit-down strike in Karachi is keeping supply trucks from getting to the port, Stevenson said. He expects the strike to last a couple of days.
Of the supplies it delivers by land, the US brings in 60 percent to Afghanistan from the north through Central Asia and the Baltic states and 40 percent from the south through Pakistan. There, supplies arrive in the port of Karachi and travel over land by contractor-driven trucks.
The goal is to increase supplies coming in from the north to 75 percent, Stevenson said. "We're not there yet."
The US relies on airlift for all of its "sensitive" and "high-tech" equipment, Stevenson said. This is due to restrictions placed on the US by countries along the northern route, as well as frequent attacks on supply trucks.
To keep supplies off the roads, the US also relies on a large pool of "theater-provided" equipment. The challenge there is that the equipment requires major overhaul and refurbishment about every two years. The capability to do that in Afghanistan is now available, the three-star said.
The Army is also experimenting with shipping more supplies to a nearby "friendly country" and then flying them into Afghanistan using C-17s. The Army is examining whether this route is cheaper in the long run because it avoids pilferage and other kinds of attacks, Stevenson said.
The general did not name the country. However, Stars and Stripes reported last spring that Bahrain served as a staging area to ship MRAP all-terrain vehicles into Afghanistan. The new vehicles were transported by ship to Bahrain and then flown to theater.