Rampant Pilfering in Pakistan Plagues Supply Routes into Afghanistan

6/29/2011
By Eric Beidel
Fuel convoys are under constant threat of roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, but that is only one of the many nightmares the U.S. military faces moving supplies into the war-torn nation.
The pilfering of food, construction materials and other general supplies is rampant as the Army ships these items through Pakistan, said Lt. Gen. Mitchell H. Stevenson, the service’s deputy chief of staff for logistics.
“This is a tough country to do business in,” he said June 28 at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement symposium in Washington, D.C.
For starters, most Army materials are moved by surface ships but there is no seaport in Afghanistan. The service must send its ships to the Port of Karachi in Pakistan. From there, the Army is forced to rely on local contractors to truck supplies into Afghanistan as Pakistan doesn’t permit military personnel inside its borders except under specific conditions.
But the logistics line through Pakistan has fallen victim to pilferage, Stevenson said.
Early on during the war, the Army had no visibility of its assets once it left a ship in Karachi until it reached its destination in Afghanistan. The service began using devices that could detect light and movement to alert them to cargo being stolen out of shipping containers, but it wasn’t enough.
Thieves would cut off the entire back of a container to steal their contents. They would fill the container with sandbags and weld it back together, all while never breaking the seal. While the Army’s technology alerted leaders to breaches, they could not be certain of exactly where the events were occurring in real time.
Next month the Army will begin using of satellite tags to track shipments. It also has started using  “smart” containers in Afghanistan. These are made of a lightweight polymer material and are able to broadcast to a global satellite communications network a container’s location, condition and security status.
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had a goal of moving 75 percent of ground cargo into Afghanistan from the north, therefore bypassing Pakistan. The Army so far is shy of that goal, Stevenson said.
“What’s holding us up is that the countries we have to transit have conditions on what they will allow to go through their countries,” he said.
At least one country on every northern route into Afghanistan will not permit coalition forces to carry “lethal” cargo inside their borders. This is interpreted to mean that the Army cannot ship certain assets — such as  Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles —  through the north.
To avoid these roadblocks and mitigate theft, forces have turned to the air to get cargo to the battlefield. One proposal would move supplies by surface to a friendly Middle Eastern country — which Stevenson declined to identify — and from there load it onto C-17 aircraft to fly it into Afghanistan.
Since 2005, the Army has dropped from the air nearly 75 million pounds of material into Afghanistan. These drops range from the use of disposable parachutes from about 100 feet above the ground to precision drops from 5,000 feet using an electronic guidance system.
With a drawdown from Afghanistan on the horizon, troops are expecting to face some of the same challenges while moving materials out of the country.
“Going out through the north is going to be very important,” Stevenson said. The United States hopefully will be able to negotiate agreements with certain countries to remove their ban on lethal cargo transports, he said.
“It’s not like we would be coming in to fight in Afghanistan,” Stevenson said. “We would be leaving after our mission is complete so maybe they’ll be more likely to let us pass through there.”
He added: “We do not want to send this stuff down through Pakistan, and we certainly don’t want to have to fly it all out.”
The exit from Iraq is going smoothly, Stevenson said. Forces there expect to transition control of the operation over to the State Department by Dec. 31.
The Army will transfer about 3,000 pieces of equipment worth $208 million, as well as some contract support, to the State Department. Some excess equipment, including older models of the M1 Abrams tank, will be sold to the Iraqi government.

Topics: Logistics

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