From Pain to Nightmare
– Fuel Logistics in Afghanistan-
Nine years ago, on 7 October 2001, the Operation Enduring Freedom was thought to bring freedom to Afghanistan. The operation is still enduring, with thousands of taken lives. Where this “operation” is heading, when and how it will end is anybody’s guess. As was the case in Vietnam, there will surely be no victory but war will be won anyway.
This war is arguably the worst logistics nightmare American military has ever faced. As Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus remarked in his speech at the Clean Energy Economy Forum in Washington, D.C. on July 27, 2010, fuel convoys go through the coast of Pakistan, where ships offload fuel onto trucks, and then all the way up and across the Hindu Kush into Afghanistan. A lot of these convoys are hit with Improvised Explosive Devices or with ambushes, sometimes before they even get to Afghanistan. The cost in people is significant - one in every 24 convoys. That is too high a price to pay for power. He urged to change the way the US [military] use and produce energy. According to him, oil is the number one thing the US military imports to Afghanistan.
But it is not only fuel that is brought to Afghanistan. Speaking at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference on 14 September 2010 General Norton Schwartz stated that more than three million tons of materiel that have been transported by air since the start of Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and nearly 17,500 tanker sorties in 2009 alone off-loaded over 160 million gallons of fuel to more than 82,000 aircraft in direct support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This logistics pains has turned to more than strategic and political nightmare recently. On September 30, NATO helicopters fired missiles at a Pakistani military post in northwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border, killing Pakistani soldiers. A joint NATO-Pakistani investigation determined the U.S. pilots mistook the soldiers for militants. The United States has apologized for the raid, calling it a terrible accident. As drone war escalates so does the mistakenly killed people. The lesson: in the western world people die accidentally. But in Afghanistan they both die accidentally and more important live accidentally.
Following the strike, Pakistan shut the Torkhum border crossing, in the Khyber tribal region. This passage is a main route for convoys carrying supplies for international forces in Afghanistan. But a second route through southwestern Pakistan (the Chaman crossing in Balochistan) has remained open. The Pakistani routes bring in around 40 per cent of supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command. Shutting down of the Torkhum has stalled hundreds of trucks carrying supplies to Afghanistan and made them easy targets.
Now let me introduce a serious article. An article by Colonel Carra and Chief Warrant Officer Ray on the Evolution of Petroleum Support in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility in September/October 2010 issue of Army Sustainment gives an excellent overview of fuel logistics to Afghanistan.
Fuel enters Afghanistan by rail tank cars and is delivered to a terminal 6 kilometers inside the border; this is the terminus of the country’s only rail line. The fuel is then carried by commercial trucks over unimproved roads, where the trucks face exposure to bad weather and enemy attacks and must hurdle a shadow network of local and national customs and security requirements.
Since 2002, CENTCOM and its strategic petroleum support partners (DESC since 2002, NATO since 2007) have increased fuel storage capacity in Afghanistan from roughly 100,000 gallons to more than 30 million gallons (with up to 12 million of those gallons in contracted commercial steel-tank facilities) to meet a demand that has grown from 40,000 gallons per day in 2002 to more than 1.1 million gallons per day in 2009.Delivering fuel without using contractors would have required the Army to use 9,103 Soldiers and 2,760 of its 7,500-gallon tankers—4 times the entire Army inventory.
Starting in 2007, CENTCOM partnered with DESC to shift most petroleum sustainment in Afghanistan away from the Southern GLOC, which enters Afghanistan from Pakistan, to what is known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which enters from the Central Asian States. This change increased the amount of petroleum entering by the NDN from 30 to 70 percent of all petroleum sustainment. Coupled with the shift to the NDN, DESC had the forethought to initiate a contract provision with its petroleum suppliers to hold up to 9 million gallons of contractor-owned fuel (as a “commercial reserve”) within Afghanistan to mitigate any ebb and flow in regional fuel distribution.
DESC also increased its Government-owned “strategic reserve” in and around Kabul from 2 to 5 million gallons. DESC’s contractors established a commercial fuel terminal outside of Bagram Air Base in 2007 and built a 2-mile pipeline to streamline Bagram’s fuel resupply; this reduced fuel truck traffic coming onto the base. DESC has also initiated direct delivery to major direct support hubs at forward operating bases (FOBs) Fenty, Sharana, and Shank, thereby reducing hub-and-spoke fuel deliveries from Bagram to the other FOBs in Regional Command East. Bagram’s steel-tank fuel facility will have 12 million gallons of storage capacity in 2012. In 2002, Bagram’s daily consumption was 40,000 gallons per day; today, Bagram accounts for approximately 500,000 gallons per day.
DESC is soliciting an additional 10 million gallons of contracted storage and enhanced delivery services for Regional Command East and for mutual support of other regional commands, based on a CENTCOM-validated 2009 to 2010 requirement.
In 2007, Centcom partnered with the DESC to shift most Afghanistan petroleum sustainment from the southern ground line of communication (GLOC), which enters Afghanistan from Pakistan, to the Northern Distribution Network, which enters from the Central Asian States.
In 2008, CENTCOM partnered with NATO’s Joint Forces Command-Brunssum (JFC−B) to leverage the NATO-contracted capability to support U.S. forces in Regional Commands South and West. In support of the deployment of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan in 2009, the CENTCOM director of logistics directed the use of the existing JFC−B contracts to support U.S. forces in Regional Commands South and West.
CENTCOM will continue to seek additional semi-permanent and permanent U.S. and contracted fuel storage in order to mitigate risks from disruption of the distribution system and improve quality control of stored fuel.
Now let me look at the problem from a different angle. Afghanistan does not have oil refining capability, which means that all petroleum must be imported from outside its landlocked territory. Why a refinery has not been constructed in the past 10 years? Would there be that much suspicion about the corruption allegations and the questions I raised above had the tankers carried crude oil?