NATO’s Russian route to Afghanistan

NATO’s deputy assistant sec-gen for security cooperation and partnership, Robert Simmons, has been in Moscow pushing forward the plan to open a Russian route to resupply the NATO positions in Afghanistan. (HT: Afghanistan Conflict Monitor.)
This, two days after the well-planned attack on a NATO staging area in Peshawar that left 160 Afghanistan-bound trucks torched to a cinder.
Interfax tells us that Simmons described Russia-NATO cooperation on Afghanistan as “good on the whole.” He said NATO had received a plausible “proposal” from Russia regarding a trans-shipping agreement. However, to get the Russia route open will also require trans-shipping agreements with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Ukraine, so NATO is working on those now.
Simmons also spoke about an agreement under which Afghan servicemen would receive training at “the Domodedovo center near Moscow.”
As I’ve discussed here before, the urgent need the western alliance has to get supplies to its troops in Afghanistan has forced it into a collaboration with Russia which makes any idea of outright confrontation with Moscow– such as Georgia’s President Saakashvili tried to stoke last August– quite suicidal for NATO.
If you look at the handy sketch-map of possible land routes into Afghanistan that B of Moon of Alabama published in November and the list of countries Simmons is talking to you can see that Simmons’s current “Russia route” will run somewhat to the north of B’s Red Line, thus avoiding the serious hassle and expense of transferring the goods to boats to get across the Caspian Sea. I think to get from either Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan into Afghanistan, the goods will also need to go across Turkmenistan. Maybe that leg is already in NATO’s bag?
This little rail map of Central Asia published by Stratfor in January is also handy. It shows that there is at present just one rail connection going from western China into one of the central Asian Stans: the line from Urumqi into Kazakhstan. But it also shows (in red) the two additional connectors the Chinese are currently working on. These will greatly strengthen China’s ability to exert influence in the entire Central Asian region.
As of now, Afghanistan does not have any national rail line. But China is now planning to build one. It will traverse the whole country north to south, linking Afghanistan to both Tajikstan and Pakistan (and not coincidentally also giving China an indirect outlet to the Arabian Sea.)
But the “China route” for getting NATO goods into Afghanistan– B’s Green Line– still seems to be a long way off. (Correct me if I’m wrong, anyone.) That leaves NATO having to juggle between reliance on Pakistan, or Russia, or on the unbelievably expensive option of shipping things in by air. Airlift is totally not a sustainable option over any length of time. Afghanistan is quite a lot bigger and more distant from NATO’s home-bases than West Berlin!
Hence, given the current uncertainties in Pakistan, NATO’s increasing reliance on Russia.

9 thoughts on “NATO’s Russian route to Afghanistan

  1. Don Bacon

    There has been a second attack. Suspected militants in the Pakistani city of Peshawar have attacked another terminal holding Nato-bound equipment, the second such attack in two days. The attackers struck the terminal on the outskirts of the city, torching up to 50 vehicles.
    But not to worry: NATO operations in Afghanistan will not be affected by escalating attacks on the alliance’s supply lines through Pakistan, Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Tuesday. The militants “should not be under any illusion that they can disrupt the lines of communication, since we have alternatives,” de Hoop Scheffer said.
    Alternatives? Looking at the cost of transportation over 3,000 miles of Europe and Asia, the goods necessary to fill such a pipeline and the time to do it, and the vulnerability of those shipments to all sorts of intended and unintended problems, perhaps if you requisitioned some supplies today you might see them in six weeks or so, if you’re very lucky. Maybe six months. Too late.
    This at a time when a new report says that the Taliban has a presence in 72% of Afghanistan, and the US brigade being sent next month won’t go to the east as planned but is needed near Kabul.
    I say let’s give the whole thing up. But General Petraeus has a different view — he’s “doubling down.” He has recommended a major troop surge in Afghanistan. Petraeus said he had “already made recommendations” for an almost doubling of US troops in Afghanistan based on requests from General David McKiernan, the top commander of US and NATO troops in the central Asian country. And they will be supplied how?
    (Doubling down: When a gambler has had a long losing streak, they will bet an amount equal to the amount they’ve already lost, hoping that their luck will change and that they will be able to fully regain their losses with just one bet.)

  2. Frank al Irlandi

    This from Roger McDermott on the analysis of the Georgian fighting (was it a war?) is interesting.
    I should think the Russians will be quite happy to control the supply line into Afghanistan.
    The supply line through Pakistan is hazarded if there is any major military operation by US troops onto Pakistani territory.
    Did you read M K Bhadrakumar at Asia Times on drawing India into SCO?

  3. b

    My map was specifically to a U.S. effort for a new route. NATO wants to go through Russia, the U.S. is looking for a different way. From the Kyiv Post report
    This will provide for cargo transportation for the International Security Assistance Force by railway via Russia and the above countries, the diplomat said.
    Asked to comment on speculation in some media that the United States is considering opening a new transit route to Afghanistan by- passing Russia, probably through the Georgian port of Poti, Simmons said that he was not speaking on behalf of the United States but on behalf of NATO and for NATO the route he had just been talking about was a priority.
    There is, again, a split between NATO and the U.S. …

  4. Alex

    Me, I think with b (Bernardt) that replacing transport through the Khyber with transport through Russia and the Central Asian Republics is going to prove problematic.
    Today that could be a goer, tomorrow it could be closed.

  5. Don Bacon

    Apparently the Russian railways aren’t world class.
    ICT Group, Feb, 2006
    In Russia, some 70% of freight is carried by rail, but the freight car fleet has not been replaced in a long time. Whereas the Soviet Union had produced around 40,000-60,000 railway cars annually, output plummeted to just 2,000 in the 1990s. The cars running on Russian railways are catastrophically obsolete and worn out.
    The Moscow News, April, 2007:
    Russian Railways Need $400 Bln for Grid Upgrade . . .President Putin emphasized that it is necessary not only to upgrade or replace increasingly worn-out assets, 60 percent of which are obsolete, but also to create a new infrastructure for high-speed transport.

  6. John R

    What a shame the relations with Iran did not pan out in the past, as there was a common enemy and opportunity just after 9/11 to collaborate.
    Does anyone know if there is a land route from the Persian Gulf through Iran to Afghanistan?
    Just for what if sake!

  7. DE Tedoru

    American counterinsurgency (COIN) — as promoted by General David Petraeus– is, actually in practice not theory, exactly what the left in the 1960s used to call it: the indiscriminate killing of people, blindly using weapons that could easily become weapons of mass destruction as remedy for our strategic incompetence. The war in Vietnam was, in fact, a contest between MACV/ARVN and Viet Cong/Hanoi’s PAVN forces under Soviet advice for who could kill the most civilians efficiently, meaning who could kill as many helpless bystanders and at a rate that would convince the survivors that they must join this or that side. As Lenin put it so well, the issue is to force everyone into one side or another– “polarization,” eg. fully committed in order to survive. The US tried to combat the Viet Cong in South Vietnam through indiscriminate use of air-power, killing of civilians in North Vietnam. As one pilot put it: “I have to risk a $5 million craft to blow to bits a $5 ox cart.” It was only after 1967, when US forces focused on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the concentration of PAVN forces as target of B-52 strikes, that the Viet Cong Infrastructure found itself unprotected, exposed and unable to generate fear in the public. As a result, the VCI was dismantled, not by military operations but by police forces. Such forces possess far less firepower, use it defensively and rely mostly on judicial arrest rather than indiscriminate killing. As the police created a modicum of security, rural folks began to appreciate the value of Saigon government services as opposed to the Spartan life in VC “struggle hamlets.” With time, the economic development zones did spread like oil spots on water. At the edges of these spreading oil slicks, the population came forward to provide police forces invaluable information for prosecution instead of persecution, exposing the VCI, whose members often defected under family pressure and augmented the intelligence available to the government. Unfortunately, Hanoi’s total invasion of South Vietnam, after all US bombing of North Vietnam ceased, could not be resisted by South Vietnam alone; once forced into a defensive position, without access to the massive US air-power that had been decimating the PAVN supply lines from the Soviet Union’s port of Vladivostok to Haiphong Harbor and, following a long rail trek west to an even longer trek by truck along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the South, ARVN could no longer fight a defensive war against a totally offensive PAVN force; by then the “trail” was really a massive network of all-weather superhighways protected from view by triple canopy jungle. The Ted Kennedy rider to the 1973 Defense Bill cut off funding for ARVN ammunition, petrol and replacement parts. Massive Soviet exports from Vladivostok to Haiphong and use of all PAVN forces to fight in the South ( only one division remained in the North), attacking from safe staging bases in neighboring Laos and Cambodia, made the Republic of Vietnam virtually defenseless.
    What is the lesson of all this?
    Key is the fact that Hanoi’s VCI was, according to its own Party History, NEVER able to significantly dominate any of South Vietnam’s cities and towns. Over the course of the war, South Vietnam went from an 85% rural population to a 75% urban one. In effect, the Saigon government drained the peasant “sea,” leaving the VCI “fish” high and dry. But that was not possible until the tide had turned and South Vietnam was no longer a nation which the US sought to save from Communism by massacring its population with ordnance. As police operations dismantled the VCI and US airpower focused on Hanoi’s forces in unpopulated jungles of Laos and Cambodia, the people of South Vietnam became secure enough to taste what lay ahead for them as citizens in a free nation allied to the West. Modernity was most attractive and “a better war” became obvious to all those who witnessed life outside the capital, Saigon. It became obvious ONLY because military operations were moved to the border jungles and police operations spread like an oil spot from the cities to the countryside. The Phoenix was indeed rising as a result of the Phoenix police Program when time ran out and the US abandoned South Vietnam with North Vietnamese tanks were based within it. But the ultimate lesson of the Vietnam War is that when you stop securing the nation by crude massacring firepower visited on all populated areas where the enemy infrastructure could possibly be, concentrating instead on discrete police investigation and security to arrest him, the socioeconomic infrastructure rises and popular “polarization” goes the way of the government, not the Communists.
    The Israeli forces (IDF) could never have learned this lesson in dealing with the Palestinians because the goal of the Zionist Government has always been to make the Palestinians disappear, pushing them back, in the words of Jabotinsky (whose followers founded the Likud Party), with an “iron wall” that caused most to flee and exterminated those who would not run. Towards that end, techniques were used since 1948 that resemble those of Trotsky’s “Red Army” in the so-called Soviet Republics to the East and South of the young USSR. However, the land at issue in Palestine is so much smaller and surrounded by hostile peoples, that Israel saw no way it could co-habitate with the Arabs; so it only wanted the Palestinians to go away or be killed. Thus, for example, the recent creation of a border security wall, is only a “red” start line to secure the “Jewish” areas to the West from which “Greater Israel” is to expand eastward into the Arab territories. Current expansion begins from there outward through any and all means of attrition as a result of imposed misery or death. As was the case with the Soviets, the Israelis accomplish this through suppression of the population using a murderous mix of economic and violent military tactics.
    It follows that copying Israeli tactics in order to “pacify” Iraqi and Afghan cities and the countryside, the US invariably found itself UNINTENTIONALLY massacring large numbers of innocent civilians and thus fueling a most effective and resilient insurgency. But, unlike Israel that had some 32,000 Palestinian informers in the Arab areas and only covered an area less than 10% the areas covered by US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is intel blind and thin in “boots on the ground” presence. Advanced high-tech intel gadgets proved beyond the capability of US forces, according to several Pentagon studies. So, the only way to suppress the insurgents, by necessity, became to defensively and nervously preempt insurgent actions by shooting at any movement, any sound and any shape that one sees through night-vision goggles. In fact, it can be said that the US operations against the Shi’ite supporters of Sadr in Baghdad follow the Israeli tactics: in crowded urban areas, “insurgent JAM militiamen” spotted by loose criteria through video drone aircraft are shot at with rockets and bombs without consideration for the innocent civilians in the picture. In Afghanistan it is worse, since insurgents operate from their home villages and US forces are even more stretched thin than in Iraq, indiscriminant death from the air is often called in by American spotters. There, US forces are, in effect, reproducing the failed Russian strategy of the 1980s: eradicating all living things from where hostile fire is received. As a result, we are repeating the air-war strategy against North Vietnam of killing “something” so as to make our presence felt. Our NATO allies are accusing us of war crimes and the British commander in Afghanistan, our closest ally, declared the Afghan War “unwinable militarily.” We are repeating that old Soviet tactic of shooting anything that moves on the ground from helicopters. But the Soviet’s goal was to kill any and all Afghans; ours is, supposedly, to bring them a better life. What defeated the Soviets were the “Stinger” missiles that the CIA provided. These missiles were shoulder fired and guided to the hot motor of the Soviet helicopters used in the massacres– the Stingers rarely missed. What is defeating American forces now in not Stingers but the “shahids”: suicide bombers who mix in with the population to blow themselves up close to US troops or blow up US vehicles with roadside bombs. Since in both Iraq and Afghanistan, American “boots” on the ground are spread so thin that they feel compelled to aimlessly ride around in patrol to demonstrate “presence” to the locals, suicide bombers make our intel blind forces most vulnerable to suicide and roadside explosions. Most American casualties come from the blowing up of these vehicles on patrol.
    It is predictable that more Iraqis and Afghans have been willing to die killing Americans to avenge relatives and compatriots that fell victim to indiscriminant US ordnance than Americans are willing to risk their lives to “pacify” these two countries. As a result, President Bush– a Vietnam War combat evader– has imposed a “stop-loss” order which forces soldiers that completed their combat tours to repeat them over and over again. Since these soldiers are on average five years older than soldiers were in Vietnam, they all have families and are anxious for the widows and orphans they leave behind at home. As a result, they become nervous and frustrated, prone to shoot at any movement noted by their sensorium. One frustrated trooper in Iraq told a TV crew filming him: “I’d give my whole re-up pay if Bush would only come and stand next to me for a week.”
    In Afghanistan things are even worse, for our troops are far more thinned out on a terrain that demands far tighter defense lines. There, for seven years now, the US has substituted ordnance for boots, Israeli style. As a result, we are repeating the air-war strategy used against North Vietnam: killing “something” so as to make our power felt. We are also, even more so than in Iraq, repeating the old Soviet tactic of shooting anything that moves on the ground from helicopters– not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. As was the Soviet’s desperate goal in their Afghan War, the Israeli’s goal in Palestinian territories and our goal in North Vietnam, we are indiscriminately killing Afghans wherever they congregate– even though our real goal is to bring them a better life. It would be as if a doctor were poisoning patients in order to unclog his understaffed ER. With our forces spread thinner than even in Iraq, they are fear ridden and, MORE THAN EVER BEFORE, simply killing in order to feel safe. Special Forces and troopers on the ground cannot be blamed for their desperate situation. It is their commanders– beginning with Commander-in-Chief Bush– that must take the brunt of the criminal negligence charge upon themselves. Recently, ten Green Berets got Silver Star medals for stupidity– NOT THEIR STUPIDITY but that of their commanders that sent them into a pointless mission, outmanned, outgunned and defenseless. It also cost millions of dollars to insert them into this most vulnerable position, extract them and take care of the permanently disable forever after. That mission will fade into the crowded bin of command idiocy and criminal incompetence and these men will, sadly, be forgotten, despite the medals they all received. Americans back home suffer from the “ain’t my kid going to Afghanistan or Iraq” disconnect syndrome. Like politicians, Americans think that all they need do is say: “thanks for your service” and then go on to ply their advantage over returning vets, having been on the job or in school back home uninterrupted by war.
    How many Americans are distracted from their woes in a depressed economy by the plight of returning Iraq/Afghan Wars vets? How many are aware of the unconscionable cut the Bush Administration has made in Congressionally provided funds for the Veterans’ Administration? How many Americans take the time to check on whether the promises made to vets when they enlisted are kept?
    What is to be done?
    Let us begin by noting that most patients that get moved to the ICU after admission to regular acute wards most often do not survive. The reason for that is that, no matter how skilled and intense the care in the ICU, there is a limit to how much added pathology inflicted on the frail physiology of hospitalized patients by medical criminal incompetence/negligence in acute wards can be reversed by ICU expertise. In general, time spend on wards getting sicker because of medical incompetence instead of healed by competent hands is far more irreversibly deleterious than is doing nothing. That is why it is a motto of American medicine that, above all, before acting, be sure that YOU DO NO HARM. Alas, the Pentagon had been full of incompetent and ambitious generals determined to advance by acting and led by criminally negligent civilian leadership under Rumsfeld (Gates is a very able SecDef but he is not a miracle worker). The Bush Administration– admittedly unintentionally– produced the death of millions of Muslims, directly and indirectly, through its stumbling incompetent war on Islam. Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, all pretended to know what they are doing. And, opportunist uniformed sycophant stars in the Pentagon pretended that they all agree with the policy directives of these civilian incompetents. No doubt Americans will dupe themselves with the illusion that Bush et. al. sought to bring democracy to Islam. Americans will never appreciate how our nation’s ignorant intervention turned from hubris to fear as it went from a crime of aggression to multiple war crimes. This is how Vietnam became a resolved moral qualm in the history books: it was blamed on Nixon and faded from memory, only to be repeated again and again as America sought to overcome its unconscious “Vietnam Syndrome” in numerous conflicts subsequently. Every time, attempts to compensate for diplomatic incompetence with force caused death and destruction all around our invasion forces. Yet, like the Israelis, Americans, again and again, duped themselves into believing that they are a people under attack, circling their wagons, believing that the “injuns” were surrounding them. In this way, we could count only our dead in apoplectic self-pity, and avoid compiling the number of casualties we produce as direct consequence to our “smart” weapons made by corrupt contractors and handled by technically incompetent soldiers. I have never seen a people so manipulated by propaganda, genuinely sobbing over their losses, yet oblivious to the losses we inflict on others through incompetence. If an American doctor were to practice medicine as the Bush policy makers and generals practiced “liberation,” such a doctor would very quickly be in jail for criminal negligence at the very least. It is hard to imagine that such a grand and great nation could be ruled by such small minded leaders and is genuinely convinced that flooding the victims that survive our firepower wrath with goods makes Americans look generous instead of barbarous. From the “shock and awe” with which the Bush Administration began the Iraq War– meaning to kill Saddam but instead killing tens of innocent civilians– to the wiping out of dozens of wedding parties in Afghanistan from planes high up in the air, Americans seem genuinely perplexed as to why Muslims resist Bush’s Americanization “crusade” and volunteer to die taking revenge on our nation which so generously sends its Avenging Angel aircrafts post-9/11 to recklessly bomb from so high above that no one sees or hears them coming.
    Our great nation in its “unipolar moment” has been read as “without a clue” by “allies,” from the Russians to the Saudis, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Georgians and many, many others. America’s real allies gave up in exasperation; Americans cannot learn, they concluded. To date, one may wonder, how many of us realize that what happened to our forces in Iraq is EXACTLY what French President Chirac had warned Bush would happen. Yet, Chirac’s rejection of the foolishness of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, (all dominated and duped by the neocons who played on the egomania of each of them), is still seen as French betrayal of America’s moral authority. Bush’s strict order to the White House staff– NO BAD NEWS!– is legendary. But few people are aware of the fact that Bush thought nothing wrong in ordering a bombing of the Arab news-service alJazzira’s Afghan press office because it televised the “bad news.” Nor does anyone seem perturbed by the American proposal that NATO press services in Afghanistan be combined with psyops propaganda operations. Americans have been conditioned to deem commercials as information, so it is no wonder that they can’t distinguish information dissemination from psychological manipulation.
    Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s neighbors have come to realize how childish America’s leaders are, playing global chess by the simple rules of checkers. Even if President-elect Obama proves an adept and responsible international chess master, America has, in the words of EJ Dionne, been on “a vacation from complexity” for so long that it may be too late to save anything from our Afghan venture. India, Pakistan, Russia, China and other adept diplomatic chess players, who think complex because they can’t afford not to, could well draw us into catastrophic polices that cement us under the judgment that America perpetrated a criminal war against Muslims led by the nose by the neocons and some right-wing interests in Israel.
    A new situation has unfolded: bilked by its own robber barons on Wall Street while ruled by domestic “conservative” cannibals constituting what one author called, the right-wing “WRECKING CREW,” America is now BROKE. We thus can no longer afford our “Crusade” against Islam to force it to sell us oil cheap. Nor can we continue our “on-again-off-again” chase of binLaden. We have survival priorities so as not to eclipse as a power the way of Rome. We have done enough harm to the world and, consequently, totally lost our moral authority. All that is left is for America to retreat, contract itself in order to solve its own critical domestic problems, thus leading by example.
    Like all past great peoples who were powerful but ignorant, Americans are blinded by hubris and oblivious to their immoral crimminal negligence wielding their weapons in a state of utter bravura. First and foremost we have to stop the killing that we wantonly engaged in over and over again since Vietnam. Lloyd Gardner, a “revisionist” Cold War historian brilliantly analyzed the schizoid American character, both moralist (good) and imperialist (bad). American interventionism has exposed the weakness behind American Exceptionalism, much as has Israel exposed the weakness in its Zionist Exceptionalism; Israel is a reflection of the US in miniature: great potential but burdened with a political system that sometimes catapults to power mediocrity and incompetence. The intellectually weak “conservatives” brought to power in the GW Bush Administration suffer from a realization that their coming to power is historically nonsense– a fluke, a freak of history. They therefore feel that happenstance authority coming to them decouples them from historic responsibility because whatever they do– good or ill– will result in the same disappearance of their leadership from the scene. They, in other words, suffer from an “apres moi le deluge” complex and feel no sense of obligation to the nation and the offices they hold, viewing power as merely a momentary personal opportunity for themselves. Furthermore, they are acutely aware of their inherent mediocrity; therefore, suffering from a collective inferiority complex, they are convinced that only by acting “outside of the [law] box” can they maintain power. Their tragic sense of inevitable catastrophe has produced a larcenous psychology of abandon of any limits, seeking to take all that they can get now and to hell with the future, for they will never again hold power. Ronald Reagan’s single-minded determination to win the Cold War and rid the world of the Soviet Union has overshadowed the Conservatives’ “killing of the goose that lays the golden eggs” during the 1980s. But after eight years of Bush at the top, we inevitably came to an economic Armageddon. If we are to survive and even recover, we cannot avariciously continue to consume 60% of the world’s resources though we are only 6% of the world’s population, sustained in our material orgy by our military might.
    Above all, not having learned from our most recent massacres of peoples abroad– recently blindly led to repeat massacre in the Middle East, guided by neocons seeking to prove their “mensch-hood” by leading America into what they call “World War IV”– we are doing too much harm to be allowed to exist unmolested by the rest of the world. Our survival depends on our retreating and retrenching so that we can again become that “Shinning City On A Hill” that demonstrates the power of democracy, being the “Paradise of Freedom.” This requires an end to our 9/11 revenge massacre from the sky in Afghanistan before more Muslims than we can handle devote their lives to killing us in order to avenge the victims of our “Crusades.” We must stop doing harm, healing ourselves instead, so we can be a great example again to all mankind. Fear mongering by neocons to make us Israel’s mad killer dog on a chain used to threaten Islam can no longer be tolerated. Neocons speak for neither American nor Israeli Jews. Most American Jews proved in the 2008 election that– while like most of us DEVOTED TO THE SURVIVAL OF OUR ALLY ISRAEL– they oppose the use of American forces to kill Muslims so Israel can feel safe while it expands its “wall of Iron” crushing Arabs in Palestine.
    We are broke and in desperate need of good will. So we must stop doing harm, blindly repeating unintended war crimes to quell our fears. We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he indeed is us. Stop Petraeus before his self-promoting “counterinsurgency” causes us to be irreversibly judged as war criminals and kills off what American heroes who volunteered to defend the nation we have left. We can no longer afford to invade the world mindlessly.

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