NATO logistics in the Afghan War
NATO logistics in the Afghan War refers to the efforts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deliver vital fuel, food, hardware and other logistic supplies to Afghanistan in support of the War in Afghanistan (2001-present). Logistics operations took place under the auspices of the International Security Assistance Force from 2001 to 2014, then under the Resolute Support Mission from 2015 on.
Since Afghanistan is a landlocked country, supplies must pass through other countries in order to reach it, or else be shipped by air. Air shipping is prohibitively expensive so NATO forces tend to rely on ground routes for non-lethal equipment. This is principally accomplished either by shipping goods by sea to the Pakistani port of Karachi in the southern Sindh province, or by shipping them through Russia and the Central Asian states.
All munitions, whether small arms ammunition, artillery shells, or missiles, are transported by air. However, airlifting supplies costs up to ten times as much as transporting them through Pakistan. In order to reduce costs, these goods are often shipped by sea to ports in the Persian Gulf and then flown into Afghanistan. The air supply effort at the beginning of the war was the third largest in history, after the Berlin Airlift and the 1990 airlift for the Gulf War.
There are two routes from Pakistan to Afghanistan (both were closed in November 2011 following the Salala incident and reopened in July 2012). Both routes start in Karachi, Pakistan's principal port in its southern Sindh province, on the Arabian Sea. From there, one route crosses the Khyber Pass, enters Afghanistan at Torkham, and terminates at Kabul, supplying northern Afghanistan. This route is approximately 1,000 miles long. The other passes through Balochistan Province, crosses the border at Chaman, and ends at Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan.
NATO used these routes to transport fuel and other supplies, but not for weapons. The Pakistan routes, until their closure, provided most of the fuel for NATO efforts in Afghanistan. In 2007, the military was burning 575,000 gallons of fuel per day, and 80% of this fuel came from Pakistani refineries. The fuel storage capacity for forces at Bagram and Kabul air bases was less than 3 million gallons, making NATO efforts highly dependent on the Pakistani supply lines. NATO began working to reduce this dependency, building an additional 3 million gallons of storage space at Bagram Air Base in fall 2007. In 2010, as a result of a deterioration in American-Pakistani relations, the American military intensified these efforts, stockpiling supplies and increasing storage capacity.
In a single incident in 2008, 42 oil tankers were destroyed, and later that same year 300 militants attacked a facility in Peshawar run by Port World Logistics and set fire to 96 supply trucks and six containers.
In 2010, Pakistan suspended NATO supplies to Afghanistan for one week when a NATO helicopter killed two Pakistani soldiers within Pakistan's borders.
The incident was repeated on the Pakistan–Afghanistan border on November 26, 2011, with the killing of 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan blocked both routes and they remained blocked till July 2012. Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson of Germany, however, stated soon afterwards that the coalition has enough supplies stockpiled to continue operations indefinitely despite the closure of the supply line. Following the closure, NATO shifted its focus to the Northern Distribution Network, and by February 2012 85% of coalition fuel supplies were being shipped through the northern routes.
In early 2012, progress was made towards the reopening of the routes, with Pakistan allowing use of its airspace for the transport of perishable food items. After reviewing the U.S.-Pakistan relations and outlining what was needed to repair the bilateral relation between both countries, the Pakistani parliament turned the decision of reopening the NATO supply lines over the government in April 2012. Due to an upcoming general election in Pakistan with widespread anti-American sentiments in the country, the Pakistani government is reluctant to reopen the lines and postponed its decision until the United States has responded positively to Pakistani demands outlined in the parliamentary recommendations such as a U.S. apology for November 2011 NATO strike on Pakistani checkposts, the bringing of those involved in the strike to justice and a stop of the U.S. drone air strikes. Talks between Pakistan and America failed in April 2012 after Pakistan could not get an unconditional apology from America for an air strike on Pakistani checkposts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The White House refused to apologize after Taliban attacks in Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan on April 15, 2012, which according to U.S. military and intelligence officials came at the direction of the Haqqani network, a group working from a base in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Pakistani officials said they cannot open the NATO supply routes in Afghanistan without the apology. Pakistan decided to reopen the supply lines after US Secretary of State apologized on July 3, 2012, for the Salala incident. An agreement was signed on 31 July 2012 between U.S and Pakistani officials which will allow NATO supply convoys to cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan up to the end of 2015, one year beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.
Northern Distribution Network
Afghanistan also borders Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, so alternate supply routes, termed the Northern Distribution Network, exist to move supplies into Afghanistan through these countries. However, these routes are longer and costlier than the routes through Pakistan.
There are several different routes included in the Northern Distribution Network. The most commonly used route, though also one of the longest, starts at the port of Riga, Latvia on the Baltic Sea, and continues for 3,212 miles (5,169 km) by train southwards through Russia, using railroads built by Russia in the 1980s for the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The supplies then pass through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before reaching Afghanistan's northern border at Termez. To get to the south of the country, the supplies must be loaded onto trucks and transported through the mountainous Hindu Kush by means of the Salang Tunnel. The Salang Tunnel, which is the main connection between northern and southern Afghanistan, is 1.5 miles long and situated at an altitude of 11,100 feet. The route is prone to avalanches and quite dangerous.
Another, more southern route starts at Poti, Georgia on the Black Sea and continues to Baku, Azerbaijan where the goods are transferred to barges and ferried across the Caspian Sea. Supplies land in Turkmenistan and then move by rail through Uzbekistan before arriving at the Afghan border. In 2010, this route carried one third of the NDN's traffic. Over one-third of all of the nonlethal equipment including fuel, clothing, and food used by the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan traveled through Baku at one point.
The Northern Distribution Network was established in 2009 in response to the increased risk of sending supplies through Pakistan. Initial permission for the U.S. military to move troop supplies through the region was given on January 20, 2009, after a visit to the region by General Petraeus. The first shipment along the NDN left on February 20, 2009. By 2011, the NDN handled about 40% of Afghanistan-bound traffic, compared to 30% through Pakistan.
On May 11, 2009, Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov announced that the airport in Navoi, Uzbekistan was being used to transport non-lethal cargo into Afghanistan. Due to the still unsettled relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States following the 2005 Andijon massacre and subsequent expulsion of U.S. forces from Karshi-Khanabad airbase, U.S. forces were not involved in the shipment of supplies. Instead, South Korea's Korean Air, which is currently involved in overhauling Navoi's airport, officially handles logistics at the site.
Originally only non-lethal resources were allowed on the NDN. In July 2009, however, shortly before a visit by President Obama to Moscow, Russian authorities announced that U.S. troops and weapons could use the country's airspace to reach Afghanistan.
Additionally, human rights advocates are concerned that the U.S. is again working with the government of Uzbekistan, which is often accused of violating human rights. Nevertheless, U.S. officials have promised increased cooperation with Uzbekistan, including further assistance to turn the Navoi airport into a major regional distribution center for both military and civilian ventures.
Azerbaijan, which has sent its peacekeeping forces to be a part of ISAF, also provided its airspace and airports for transportation of vital supplies for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Apart from usage of Azerbaijani airspace by U.S. Air Force, over one-third of all of the nonlethal equipment including fuel, clothing, and food used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan travels through Baku.
After the close of the Pakistan routes in 2011, this route became the primary means of moving fuel into Afghanistan. By February 2012, 85% of the coalition's fuel supplies were transported by means of this route. It is also used for moving equipment out of Afghanistan as part of the NATO drawdown. However, the use of this line is expensive, costing $87 million per month more than when the Pakistan routes were in use. American officials projected that using the NDN for the NATO withdrawal in 2013 and 2014 would cost up to five times as much as using the Pakistan routes.
In late 2011, Afghanistan opened its first major railway line, linking Hairatan, on the Uzbek border, with Mazar-i-Sharif. If successful, this project would greatly increase the efficacy of the NDN, because goods arriving by train would no longer have to be unload and put on trucks before entering Afghanistan.
After Pakistan closed its borders to supplies coming in and equipment and material leaving Afghanistan in the wake of the Salala incident the NATO alliance in Afghanistan began using the northern distribution route almost immediately as alternative supply routes. In early June 2012 NATO signed deals with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to use their territory for evacuating vehicles and military equipment from Afghanistan. "We reached agreement on reverse transit from Afghanistan with three Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan," Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a news conference on June 4, 2012. "These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need," he said, without offering more detail on the accords. In addition a deal already set with Russia will allow NATO equipment to be moved directly though land into Europe, and to air bases to fly the U.S. equipment home. Nato has said that it wants to start withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan in 2014 and the cost of the northern supply route is nearly double that of the Pakistani route, but at least it’s cheaper than flying all that equipment out by air, which costs the US military $14,000 per ton.
Russia announced plans to create a NATO transit hub in Ulyanovsk in March 2012. The decision sparked protests in the city which is the birthplace of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. In late June 2012 Russia approved ground and air transit of NATO goods over its territory from Afghanistan. An order signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and dated 25 June 2012 allows the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to move their consignments, including some types of weapons and military hardware, from and to Afghanistan via a Russian base in the Airport Ulyanovsk Vostochny by rail, road and air, in contrast with the previous permission, which sanctioned only ground transit. But the order imposes a list of conditions, including customs clearance, availability of official certificates and other requirements which ensure the goods' transparency on Russia's territory. Moscow has been considering allowing NATO to use Ulyanovsk Air Base only for the transit of non-lethal cargos to and from Afghanistan. The planned agreement however stirred a wave of criticism and protests in Russia, with many being strongly opposed to what they consider a “NATO base” on Russian soil. But high-ranking Moscow officials insisted according to Russian TV network RT that no NATO military base or the presence of the alliance’s civil and military personnel is intended, but only civilian logistics facilities.
In May 2015, Russia has closed a key military transport corridor which allowed NATO to deliver military supplies to Afghanistan through the Russian territory. 
- Bill Marmon (February 2010). "New Supply 'Front' for Afghan War Runs Across Russia, Georgia and the 'Stans". The European Institute. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
- Craig Whitlock (2 July 2011). "U.S. turns to other routes to supply Afghan war as relations with Pakistan fray". Washington Post. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
- William M. Arkin (10 November 2002). "Building a War: As Some Argue, Supply Lines Fill Up". Lost Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
- Associated Press (2 January 2012). "NATO Hopes for Reopening of Supply Routes Through Pakistan". Fox News. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- Paddy Allen; Luke Harding (28 November 2011). "Afghanistan: Nato supply routes". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Associated Press (19 January 2012). "APNewsBreak: Costs soar for new war supply routes". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Robert Bryce (18 November 2007). "Logistical Vulnerabilities and the Afghanistan War: The Pakistan Fuel Connection". Heinrich Böll Foundation. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
- David Eshel (2009). "Analysis: The Afghan War is Becoming a Logistical Nightmare". Archived from the original on 5 January 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
- "Militants torch Afghan supplies". BBC. 7 December 2008. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
- Waqar Ahmed (1 February 2012). "Alternate routes for Nato supplies may come under attack, say experts". The News. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Associated Press (16 February 2012). "Pakistan Allows NATO to Ship Food to Afghanistan". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Baqir Sajjad Syed (15 February 2012). "Govt allows Nato supplies by air". Dawn. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Latif, Aamir (16 April 2012). "Pakistan moves to reopen NATO supply lines, but US ties remain frayed". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Anwar Iqbal (22 April 2012). "Talks with US on ties next week". Dawn. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- "Pakistan postpones reopening of NATO supply line". Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 18 April 2012. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Declan Walsh, Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers (27 April 2012). "United States Talks Fail as Pakistanis Seek Apology". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- Richard Leiby and Karen DeYoung (29 April 2012). "U.S. drone strikes resume in Pakistan; action may complicate vital negotiations". The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
- CNN Wire Staff (4 July 2012). "Pakistan reopens NATO supply routes to Afghanistan". CNN Wirestaff. CNN. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- Hillary Clinton (3 July 2012). "Statement by Secretary Clinton on her Call With Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar (Press Release Number (PRN) 2012/1084)". United States Department of State. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- "Pakistan to reopen supply lines to Nato Afghan forces". BBC News Asia. 3 July. Retrieved 4 July 2012. Check date values in:
- Guerin, Orla (3 July 2012). "Pakistan reopens vital lines into Afghanistan". BBC News Asia. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- "U.S., Pakistan sign deal to allow supply routes through 2015". 31 July 2012.
- Richard Solash (29 December 2011). "U.S. Ambassador To Azerbaijan Leaving Post". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
- "Northern Distribution Network Delivers". EurasiaNet. March 18, 2009.
- Oppel, Richard A. (January 20, 2009). "U.S. secures new supply routes to Afghanistan". The New York Times. Afghanistan;Khyber Pass;Russia. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
- Daly, John CK (May 27, 2009). "Second-Chance Logistics". ISN Security Watch.
- "To Afghanistan, on the slow train". CNN. November 29, 2011. Archived from the original on December 5, 2011. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
- Tynan, Deirdre (May 11, 2009). "Karimov Gives Washington the Air Base it Needs for Afghan Operations". EurasiaNet.
- Baker, Peter (July 3, 2009). "Russia Opens Route for U.S. to Fly Arms to Afghanistan". New York Times.
- "Afghanistan's northern neighbours: Road blocks". The Economist. March 5, 2009.
- "US Ambassador Norland Promises to Increase Cooperation with Tashkent". EurasiaNet. June 4, 2009.
- "Ambassador Explores Commercial Developments in Navoi". U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan. May 13, 2009.
- Richard Solash (2011-12-29). "U.S. Ambassador To Azerbaijan Leaving Post". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Michael Hoffman (23 February 2012). "Pak Blockade May Rocket Afghan Pulout Costs". Military.com. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Associated Press (21 December 2011). "Afghanistan's first major railway opens". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Mount, Mike (4 June 2012). "U.S. and NATO secure exit route from Afghanistan". CNN. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Nato signs deal to move Afghan equipment via Central Asia". BBC News Central Asia. 4 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "NATO signs Afghan exit route deals". Al Jazeera. 5 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- Kilner, James (5 June 2012). "Nato announces deals to exit Afghanistan via Central Asia". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- Baldauf, Scott (5 June 2012). "NATO will exit Afghanistan as Soviets did, through Central Asia". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Russia Approves Ulyanovsk NATO Hub". RIA Novosti. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Russia approves plans for NATO base". United Press International. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Russia broadens transit opportunities for NATO". rt.com. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Russia Approves Transit of NATO Goods". Xinhua News Agency. english.cri.cn. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- "Russia closes NATO supply corridor to Afghanistan". The Washington Times. May 19, 2015.
- CSIS.org: "The Northern Distribution Network and the Modern Silk Road" — comprehensive report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.