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February 6, 2009
Kyrgyzstan to close air base, detouring U.S. passage

The Khyber Pass.

The top national security official in Kyrgyzstan said on Friday that the country will not reverse its decision to close a U.S. air base that NATO has been using as a staging area for Afghanistan. The U.S. government faces growing problems supplying American troops in Afghanistan.

The “S4 at War” blog, written by an American infantry officer in Iraq, explains the problem in comparison to Iraq:

The problem is that unlike in Iraq where we have Kuwait as a staging area, along with a number of large logistics bases in country, Afghanistan is made up of smaller outposts, minimal suitable over-land routes, and a significantly reduced logistical capacity.

Officials in Tajikistan said they are willing to allow American and NATO supplies to pass through Tajikistan into Afghanistan. Russia also said it will start permitting non-lethal U.S. military supplies headed for Afghanistan to cross its territory.

The “Moon of Alabama” blog writes that Russia will take full advantage of U.S. vulnerability in the region:

I doubt that Russia will agree to a supply route without at least some feel for the new administration and especially its stand on missile defense in eastern Europe and on NATO expansion, both directed against Russia.

And after the U.S. broke its promiss made at the end of the cold war to not expand NATO, Russia may this time well ask for something more formal. Hillery Clinton and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov are expected to have phone call today and may meet soon.

Expect this to play out a bit longer. For Russia the issue is not urgent. For the U.S. the planed expansion of the war in Afghanistan is to 90% impossible without the supply route through Russia. Petraeus’ faux pax made the urgency clear.

Russia will of course use this to its best interest. […] Once the supply route is established but could get closed anytime Russia is miffed, the grip will only tighten. The price the U.S. pays for the supply route will ever increase.

Another problem driving all of this is escalating attacks on the Khyber Pass, a key supply route from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

The “Family Security Matters” blog writes that the attacks may compromise President Barack Obama’s plans to send more troops to Afghanistan:

In President Obama’s first week in office, the Taliban launched an unprecedented attack, destroying a strategic bridge over the Khyber Pass via which U.S. troops in Afghanistan are supplied from Pakistan. Although largely ignored by the American media, that was a major coup, demonstrating the vulnerability of U.S. logistics. It may be difficult to supply the added troops that Obama promised for Afghanistan during the campaign. In any case, sending more U.S. troops may not be the most important change to make in Bush policy. Obama needs to consider what the U.S. national interests in Afghanistan are, and how best to serve them.

The “Newshoggers” blog writes about NATO’s consideration of a route through Iran, arguing that it could be a positive step for both the U.S. and Iran, who share interests in the region:

There is a very tempting alternative to the Karachi-Peshwar-Khyber-Kabul supply line that goes through the massive temporary autonomous zone on Pakistan’s northern border.  That route is through the Iranian port of Chah Bahar and goes through the western Afghan city of Herat where it then connects to the Afghan Ring Highway which goes through all the major cities in Afghanistan.

[…]The greatest advantage is potentially a geostrategic chance in confidence building and mutual interest collaboration between the United States and Iran.  Both the United States, it allies in NATO and ISAF, and Iran  share two common goals.  No one wants to see Al-Quaeda or its descendents and franchisees gain breathing room.  Nor does any of these groups  want Sunni Pashtun extremists in power in Afghanistan.  The reasons differ but the the mutuality of the goal sets gives a strong incentive for local cooperation that could be the first step of a mutual trust but verify engagement process.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user michaelnewport under a Creative Commons license.

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1 comment


I was most disturbed to see the video footage this week of the bridge attacked by insurgents crossing the Khyber Pass. Why was this vital link not protected better? I think the question should be asked as to why a strategic point such as this was not better observed and isolated from destruction. Also the US equipment stolen from the wrecked vehicles now for sale in bazaars, some of which is of a sensitive nature (the Night Vision Goggles for one) is very frustrating to see. I cannot imagine why we have not taken steps immediately to collect this gear, even up to and including our people there buying it all back….after all the wasted money we have spent so far in this war on terror, this action would actually help our troops from being attacked with our own hardware!

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