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Tuesday, May 26

Pakistan and Afghanistan and the demise of NDN: Yeah, we sure taught Russia a lesson

As the US/NATO overland supply route to Afghanistan once again becomes fully reliant on Pakistan, sophisticated Taliban attacks against Afghan troops skyrocket ....

Northern Distribution Network (NDN)


The Northern Distribution Network [NDN] 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. (Wikipedia, NATO Logistics in Afghanistan)

November 2011, CNN:
The NDN may seem a daunting and expensive challenge, but as U.S. relations with Pakistan have frayed, the northern option has proved good insurance. Land convoys through Pakistan from the port of Karachi travel nearly 1,000 miles to reach Afghanistan, with the last part of the journey often being a painfully slow trek through the Khyber Pass.
There is the added risk of ambush -- many tankers and trucks have been attacked and destroyed in the last two years. In one incident alone in December 2008, the Pakistani Taliban set ablaze 100 trucks at a rest stop near Peshawar.
The Pakistan routes are also vulnerable to the vagaries of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. For 10 days last year, Pakistan closed the overland routes (via Tulkarm on the Khyber Pass and Chaman south of Kandahar) into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. air attacks that mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers.
The northern routes are safer and more reliable ...
May, 2014, Christian Science Monitor:
WASHINGTON — While calls mount on Capitol Hill to robustly punish Russia for its incursion into Crimea, some officials in the back halls of the Pentagon are privately pushing for restraint. That’s because senior US military officials are well aware that a key supply line in and out of Afghanistan runs through Russia.
That supply line, known as the Northern Distribution Network, or NDN, brings food, water, and building materials that keep US troops in Afghanistan fed and America’s longest war going.
Negotiating the NDN was a labor-intensive endeavor, and the Pentagon does not want to lose it, particularly as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan is set to begin soon.
[...]
The good news is that so far, Russia has shown no inclination to use the NDN as leverage in the wake of US retaliation for its troop movements in Crimea.
May 18, 2015, RT:
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev has revoked a decree that allowed delivery of NATO military equipment to Afghanistan through Russian territory.
According to the official document, signed by Medvedev and published on Monday [May 15] all previous decisions on NATO cargo transit to Afghanistan have now been revoked. This includes an act allowing delivery of military hardware and equipment via rail, motor vehicles, or through Russian airspace [emphasis mine].
The Russian Foreign Ministry has been ordered to inform all the countries involved.
May 20, 2015, The Diplomat:
Ukraine's Geopolitical Spillover Officially Makes it to Afghanistan
A number of developments since this time last year serve to mitigate the actual effects, though not the optics, of Russia’s move to close the NDN officially. For one thing, after the difficult and drawn out Afghan election last summer, a BSA was signed with little fanfare. At present, there are just over 13,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support, the NATO follow-on mission.
In March, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would maintain 9,800 troops in the country through a least the end of 2015.
Also, whereas Karzai had an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Pakistan, the country’s new president has made strides in repairing the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Af-Pak border isn’t likely to be closed again any time soon. In 2012 Pakistan and the U.S. signed an MOU to that effect, keeping the route open to NATO through 2015.
The closure of the NDN certainly marks, as the Moscow Times says, “the end of an era in Russia’s relations with NATO and the United States.” It is, however, more of an optical jab than an actual punch that will have operational weight. 
The Pakistan route had always been cheaper, anyway.
May 24, 2015, The New York Times
Afghanistan — Facing a fierce Taliban offensive across a corridor of northern Afghanistan, , the government in Kabul is turning to a strategy fraught with risk: forming local militias and beseeching old warlords for military assistance, according to Afghan and Western officials.
The effort is expected to eventually mobilize several thousand Afghans from the north to fight against the Taliban in areas where the Afghan military and police forces are losing ground or have had little presence. The action is being seen as directly undermining assurances by officials that the security forces were holding their own against the Taliban.
[...]
The establishment of the Afghan military and police forces, which are said by officials to number more than 320,000 members as of late last year, has been held up as one of the signal accomplishments of the United States-led presence here. By many accounts, the forces have continued to fight effectively in a number of areas across the country, even with far less of the air support and logistical assistance that the United States had been providing in past years.
But the Afghans are taking casualties at an alarming rate. In the first four months of 2015, more than 1,800 soldiers and police officers were killed in action, and another 3,400 were wounded, according to a Western military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss figures not being officially released by the Afghan government.
Those casualties are more than 65 percent higher than the amount during the same period last year, the official said.
Now, the militia plan suggests diminished confidence in the Afghan Army and police forces — important national institutions in a country with few of them. Indeed, the stated intent in creating nationalized forces was to replace the patchwork of militias around the country with a unified, better-trained body that was more accountable to the government.
Even as Afghan forces launched offensives in insurgent strongholds across the south this year, the military was caught flat-footed by the gathering Taliban forces in the north, according to local accounts and some officials in Kabul, the capital.

By April, the Afghan Army was losing ground to the Taliban in several northern provinces.
In mountainous Badakhshan, the Taliban broke through army checkpoints, taking prisoners and beheading a number of soldiers. Gruesome accounts of the violence shook public confidence.

The Taliban advance spread, threatening more than a few remote mountain districts, and suggesting an ambitious strategy to carve out territory in the north, which in the 1990s was the heart of the anti-Taliban resistance.
But it was the Taliban’s assault in April on Kunduz, a city near the border with Tajikistan, that prompted the government to reach outside the military for help, officials said.
Startled by how quickly the Taliban had managed to push into Kunduz’s outskirts, a visiting delegation of senior security officials sent from Kabul began to mobilize the old mujahedeen commanders who had battled the Soviets and the Taliban. Some still lead active militia groups.
[...]
In a briefing to Parliament last month, the Afghan Army chief of staff, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, offered a stark assessment of his forces’ capacities, saying, “Afghan security forces do not have the ability to carry out operations in many provinces simultaneously.”
[...]
The Pakistan supply route cheaper?  I guess that depends on the value The Diplomat puts on human life.

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