Khyber Pass closed 'indefinitely' after Taliban attacks


The Pakistani government has again shut down the Khyber Pass to NATO supply columns moving into Afghanistan.

The closure of NATO's vital link to Afghanistan took place after Taliban forces attacked a military base in Khyber with rocket-propelled grenades, killing one Frontier Corps paramilitary trooper and wounding 10 more. The Pakistani military is planning to launch another operation in an effort to clear the Taliban from the region.

"We're preparing for an assault," an official told Geo News. "We have imposed curfew in Landikotal and Jamrud (the two main towns in Khyber). The border is also closed."

During the latter part of 2008, the Taliban stepped up its attacks on NATO columns and shipping terminals in Khyber and Peshawar. More than 300 NATO vehicles and containers have been destroyed in a series of attacks on shipping terminals in Peshawar as well as attacks on convoys moving through the region.

The NATO logistical chain through Pakistan stretches from the port city of Karachi to Peshawar, through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. More than 70 percent of NATO supplies and 40 percent of its fuel moves through Peshawar.

NATO officials have downplayed the Taliban attacks on its convoys as "militarily insignificant," but the alliance is seeking alternative supply routes to Afghanistan through the Central Asia republics. The US is planning to double its forces in Afghanistan from 30,000 to 60,000 troops in an effort to stem the rising Taliban tide.

The Pakistani government has shut down the Khyber Pass to NATO supplies five times since September 2008.

In September 2008, the government closed the crossing for one day to protest US airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda operatives sheltering in the tribal areas. The second closing was in November 2008, in response to the poor security situation in Peshawar and Khyber. The third closing took place on Dec. 30, after the military launched an operation in an attempt to clear the Taliban from Jamrud. The fourth closing took place on Jan. 15 when the military expanded operations along the Afghan border in Khyber.

The new offensive in Khyber is the military's fourth attempt to clear the Taliban from the Peshawar-Khyber region since the summer of 2008. The previous three operations failed.

The military launched an offensive in Khyber in an effort to clear the Lashkar-e-Islam and the Ansar-ul-Islam militant groups from the region and restore the government's writ. The offensive ended after 11 days when the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam. All of those detained during the operation were released and the region remained under the thumb of Lashkar-e-Islam.

In November 2008, the Pakistani military launched an operation with the intent of clearing the Taliban from the Peshawar district. In a press conference, a Pakistan Frontier Corps general touted the success of the operation, noting 25 Taliban fighters were killed and 40 captured.

The November offensive failed to drive the Taliban from Peshawar, however, as multiple attacks on NATO convoys and a string of bombings and attacks on foreigners and civilians inside the city continued.

At the end of 2008, the military launched another operation in the Jamrud region just west of Peshawar. The military again claimed success, reporting that it destroyed eight Taliban "bases" and detained 39 fighters. The military claimed it was in the "mopping-up stage of the operation."

Despite the deteriorating security situation in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Army has decided to pull at least two divisions from the region to bolster the Indian frontier. The 14th Division began withdrawing last week, and it is thought the 23rd Division is also redeploying to the east.



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READER COMMENTS: "Khyber Pass closed 'indefinitely' after Taliban attacks"

Posted by Raven at January 19, 2009 3:06 PM ET:

Bill:

When are we opening our alternative (hopefully will become main) supply route?

Our ROI on Pakistan investment is paper thin but don't know when will it turn around.

Posted by Libertyship46 at January 19, 2009 6:54 PM ET:

Is the United States increasing its airlift into Afghanistan as a result of the problems with the Khyber Pass? I'm sure Military Airlift Command (MAC) could send more C-5s, C-130s, and C-17s to supply vital food and equipment to NATO's troops stationed there, but do we have the aircraft available for this?

Posted by Sanmon at January 19, 2009 9:52 PM ET:

30% of current supplies come in by aircraft today in Afghanistan. Having to increase by 70% to meet todays needs, let alone the additional troops to be deployed over 2009 will make this an interesting issue for the new administration.

Fueling the aircraft once in Afghanistan to me would be the issue that may be the biggest issue. Do we have enough aircraft to re-supply?

Maybe?

Posted by cjr at January 19, 2009 10:13 PM ET:

Raven:
This is the alternate route:

"Petraeus also said the United States has secured agreements to transport equipment for troops in Afghanistan through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia."

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_KYRGYZSTAN_US_BASE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2009-01-19-11-41-49

Posted by Render at January 20, 2009 4:58 AM ET:

If OSINT is to be believed, then the answer to the question of "do we have enough transport aircraft is"...no.

Nor do we have enough aircraft to implement an full scale evacuation without major issues for the last rear guard units.

On the positive side we do have the Canadian Leopards...

CONVOY,
R

Posted by David M at January 20, 2009 3:52 PM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Neo at January 20, 2009 8:29 PM ET:

Render

It's a little early to start talking worst case scenarios, but a few things to keep in mind. Only the Pashtun, southern half of Afghanistan, along with a few northern enclaves, are hostile. Should the worst happen, and the Pashtuns uniformly rise against NATO, Afghanistan would most likely split along ethnic lines. There is no Afghan nation as such; it is Pashtun in the south, and Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara's in the north and center. Bagram Air Base and the Panjshir Valley are both in Tajik territory north of Kabul.

I think some on this discussion board are forgetting that Afghanistan was already a divided country. The Tajik's were fighting the Taliban long before the Americans showed up. They are not on friendly terms. This makes any total political collapse, with NATO forces becoming suddenly isolated in hostile territory, very unlikely. Should we have supply problems, our stay in Afghanistan may become untenable in the long term, but it is not a classic trap.

Posted by sid at January 21, 2009 12:29 AM ET:

Hay Guys, I have been reading your web site for the past few months. In fact I have this web site book marked. There are very few of your kind that still report the news. OK so I am a Army Mom whom dose not give a shit about what the movie stars are wearing. Thank You & please keep it on the line. I can not be the only one that has a need to know.

Posted by indus at January 21, 2009 1:01 PM ET:

Neo makes an excellent point. We are taking for granted that Afghanistan (or for that matter Iraq) is a unified entity. In fact, Iraq in its current form is a recent creation of the Brits. We should have no interest in maintaining these countries in their current political form. Their political form ought to be left to them to sort out. Our primary interest ought to be getting rid of the terror cells. As such, it makes sense to demarcate the relatively peaceful northern region populated by Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and form a region akin to Kurdistan in Iraq and leave its governance to its inhabitants. Our sole focus ought to be the southern Afghanistan as well as border region inside Pakistan (frontier and Baluchistan areas controlled by Pushtuns), who are the main supporters of Taliban and Al Qaeda. And here we should forget about the concept of proportional war and a) destroy their main source of income which is poppy fields and b) cut it entirely from Pakistan by bombing bridges and roads linking it to Pakistan so that no arms and worldwide jihad supporters flow into this area. That'll pinch the terror supporters and open them up for either negotiations or starvation until they are ready to give up their support of terror elements. We need to recognize that the arms & moral support structure for terror lies in Pakistan which must be truncated as well as financial lifeline destroyed by destroying the poopy fields as well as Saudi/Arab so called charitable support.

Posted by Neo at January 22, 2009 11:08 AM ET:

My point was that Afghanistan would split into rival ethnic areas with the Taliban controlling the south and the other ethnicities trying to keep control of the north. The question than would be whether we would, could, or should continue to help the north. The prospects for helping them would be very poor for a number of reasons. The results would likely be a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

Indus said:
"We should have no interest in maintaining these countries in their current political form. Their political form ought to be left to them to sort out."

The idea that Afghan could be somehow peacefully divided along ethnic lines is ill conceived. The very idea that internal interethnic disputes eventually settle into any sort of political accommodation or even clear geographical demarcations isn't backed by historic evidence of any sort. There is no easy answer. The results always depend on circumstance and the actions of both internal and external parties to a conflict, as well as other factors such as geography.

I last time the Taliban ruled northern Afghanistan, the non-Pashtun inhabitants lived in subservience and fear of being eliminated for the slightest infraction of Taliban rules. I am afraid that this time around the Taliban would be very tempted to rid themselves their northern ethnic rivals once and for all.

By the way; the very idea that nation state boundaries would somehow "naturally" follow ethnic boundaries is only about two centuries old. The "Old World" was a crazy quilt of ethnicities. Emperors, Kings and the old ruling classes couldn't have cared less what languages the peasants spoke. Political entities have been drawing artificial lines across ethnicities since before the Egyptian and Hittite empires were hammering away at each other.

Posted by Render at January 22, 2009 11:19 AM ET:

Neo - Understood.

It is my belief that it is never too early to start talking about worst-case scenarios.

It is also my understanding that the Southern "half" of Afghanistan, (IE Nimruz, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces) is more Baluchi then Pushto. The Baluch are not Taliban, but they do tend to support the various Taliban factions, and they are currently fighting against the Pakistani government as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Major_ethnic_groups_of_Pakistan_in_1980.jpg

A total political collapse within Afghanistan itself isn't the issue, and never will be as long as there are substantial numbers of Coalition troops in country. However, given that Afghanistan is landlocked, a total political collapse of Pakistan (where all of the MSR ports are located) would be a major issue. The fact that the Pakistani government cannot keep the MSR open for any length of time, and may not control the crucial passes at any given moment gives fair warning that the Southern MSR is currently untenable. The Tajik Northern Alliance is just as dependent on that Southern MSR, (which provides some 70% of the Coalition logistics when it's open), as the Coalition forces are.

Although it must be said that the Northern Alliance, should the Coalition leave, could simply return to Tajikistan and Russia for supply, as they had done prior to 2001. Coalition forces have no such option with regards ammo and weapons. The proposed new MSR remains under indirect Russian control, (in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan).

Bagram air base is one of just two air bases within Afghanistan capable of handling heavy lift aircraft (Kandahar airport is the other). Bagram has just one airstrip that is heavy lift capable.

Those two bases alone cannot supply the current Coalition forces logistical needs due to lack of runway, taxi, and parking areas. Both bases are also somewhat difficult to fly into, requiring skilled and experienced pilots.

Allow me to recommend the book "Tournament of Shadows" by Karl E Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac for additional back round.

http://www.amazon.com/Tournament-Shadows-Central-Cornelia-Michael/dp/1582430284

None of this is new. The Great Game is as old as history itself.

PAGANINI,
R

Posted by indus at January 23, 2009 12:02 PM ET:

Neo: Northern Afghanistan with its non-Pushtun ethnicities is somewhat akin to the Kurdish region in Iraq. These northern areas were united under Ahmed Shah Massoud who controlled major areas north of the Bagram Airforce base just outside Kabul. Hazaras were its weakest link, for they are not the fighting kind to the degree Tajiks, Uzbeks and Pushtuns are. This probably goes back to their ancient Buddhist cultural leanings. Massoud was constantly at war with the Talibs.

If we focused on the Talibs and Al Qaeda, it is quite likely that the northern regions would find some form of government that would be friendly to us, again akin to Kurdish region in Iraq. And if they don't, and want to fight among themselves, that's their choice. Further, since they don't have terror elements threatening the world among them, it does not impact us and the rest of the world.

Our quarrel is with the terror groups and terror supporters, who are mainly Pushtuns mixed in with Pakistanis, Arabs and other nationalities. As long as we defeat them, it'll only help the northern ethnicities in their fight against the remainder Talib Pushtuns after we are done with getting rid of most of this cancer.