Pakistan reopens Khyber crossing to NATO convoys

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.

Pakistan reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO traffic destined for Afghanistan today.

The border crossing point in the lawless Khyber tribal agency was closed Saturday after Taliban forces hijacked and looted a convoy of trucks containing supplies and equipment for NATO forces, including two US-made armored Humvees, on Nov. 10.

The Pakistani military is now providing armed escorts for the NATO convoys, which are driven by Pakistani truckers. Prior to this, the government relied on Frontier Corps and checkpoints manned by the Afridi tribe that are dotted along the road stretching from Peshawar to Torkham.

The US military is concerned about its tenuous supply lines that stretch from the port of Karachi, then northward to Peshawar, then westward through Khyber into Pakistan. While the security situation in much of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies has deteriorated over the past several years, the road through Khyber has largely remained secure.

To keep the road open, the US paid off members of the Afridi tribe to secure the road through Khyber, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “This strategy clearly is not working any longer,” the official said.

The US military is uncomfortable relying on Pakistan’s Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps to keep the supply line open. “These same Pakistani units have been defeated by the Taliban in past battles in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, and even in Swat,” the official said, noting that entire Pakistani Army companies have been captured or routed by the Taliban in the past.

The Khyber crossing route is the main supply line for US and NATO forces operating in neighboring Afghanistan. An estimated 75 percent of NATO supplies move through Khyber. The rest of the supplies pass through the Chaman border crossing point in Baluchistan or arrive via air.

The crossing was also closed on Sept. 6 in protest against US airstrikes and an air assault against Taliban forces in South Waziristan. Pakistan reopened the crossing after one day.

The US has been quietly trying to secure alternate routes through central Asia, but the routes are less dependable and increase the amount of time it takes to move the supplies into Afghanistan.

But the military is concerned these alternate routes can be shut down if the US has major disagreements with Russia or China, who control these routes.

“We’d have to depend on Russia or China for our supplies to reach Afghanistan,” a senior US military officer told The Long War Journal.

“Over time, this is not sustainable. Take the Georgian crisis,” the officer said, noting Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia last summer. “If we move our supplies through Russia, and another crisis like this arises, say in the Ukraine, our hands will be tied. We will have to choose between supporting a burgeoning democracy and supporting the protracted fight in Afghanistan.”

The officer also expressed concerns about the US’ ability to deploy more forces into Afghanistan to fight against a resurgent Taliban given the poor security in Pakistan. “Adding three more brigades of troops and their accompanying support elements means we need to significantly increase the supplies moving through Pakistan,” the officer stated. “We are only increasing our logistical problems and betting on Pakistan to keep these routes open is a bad play.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • C. Jordan says:

    Why doesn’t NATO protect the convoys?
    Is it a sovereignty thing?
    If its our equipment, why can’t we protect it?
    Has this been a problem since 2001?

  • Brian says:

    News reports over the weekend had this intriguing bit of information:
    “U.S. forces said they grabbed a “key insurgent leader” in a joint raid with Afghan police Friday in a village in eastern Ghazni province.”
    Am I off-base to hope that it might be Siraj Haqqani?

  • Rhyno327/lrs says:

    There are negotiations going on with some Central Asian countries regarding logistics. This is supposed to be “non lethal” supply, and I hope an agreement can be reached. Iam sure Bill will have some info soon.

  • remoteman says:

    Supplying throuhg enemy or enemy-controlled territory is not a sustainable model for success. This defining characteristic of all possible supply routes into Afghanistan is not going to change. We need to recognize this fact and make the correct diplomatic Kabuki motions so that we can exit Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Will is slide back into chaos? Probably. Will it empower those in Pakistan’s tribal belt? Most certainly. Will it create another haven for terrorists? Unquestionably. The latter is the most important, and that already exists in the tribal areas. Will ceding Afghanistan change anything really?

  • Marlin says:

    The Pakistanis look somewhat serious about protecting the convoys, at least for the moment.

    Pakistan sent troops armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns to escort trucks Monday along a major supply route for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, part of new security measures to combat militant attacks.
    The paramilitary guards traveled in pickup trucks alongside convoys as they snaked their way up Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, an increasingly perilous 30-mile stretch.

    Associated Press: US supply trucks get armed escorts in Pakistan

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/17/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Marlin says:

    The Pakistani Army does not appear to be involved in the route protection.

    About 100 Frontier Corps (FC) and Khasadar (tribal police) troops escorted Afghanistan-bound container trucks and oil tankers crossing the troubled Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency, as supplies to NATO and US forces resumed on Monday.
    Security forces will accompany two convoys of 25 vehicles each from Jamrud to Torkham every day initially, political administration officials said. The number of convoys may be increased to three depending on the security situation.

    Daily Times: Critical Khyber Pass NATO supply route reopens

  • Marlin says:

    Interestingly, the U.S. military claims that the closure of the Khyber Pass did not impact their operations.

    A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan insisted Monday that the temporary halting of convoys through the Khyber Pass had not impacted operations.
    “We continue to move supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan,” said Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews. “I can’t give you the route.”

    Associated Press: US supply trucks get armed escorts in Pakistan

  • What says:

    Will ceding Afghanistan change anything really?
    Yes it will give jihadists a propaganda victory, something they sorely need after their Iraq fiasco. It will also free up jihadists who are now fighting to defend muslim land to be used for offensive operations in other places. Do you really want to take a chance on one of those places being US soil? It will free up jihadist resources for offensive operations in other places.
    Not keeping the jihadists busy with defending muslim territory is an invitation for more attacks here in the West.

  • remoteman says:

    I get the “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” theory. But just having some limited engagement as a flytrap seems like a rather large burden to be placed upon our military. No other country is going to step up in a fashion that is even near reasonable relative to what our people and our taxpayers have to bear.
    The tribal belt already serves as a base from which jihadists can plan and launch attacks. It seems Somalia is once again going to play that role as well. Adding Afghanistan to the mix doesn’t seem to alter things too much IMO.
    I do appreciate the psychological aspect of their being able to claim a victory, but that is why the diplomats must make it appear to the contrary. Not an easy task, I grant you.
    Afghanistan and the FATA are generations behind what we would refer to as modern societies. They are a tribal/warlord/strongman-centric society. Stability is inconsistent with this societal structure. We can pour billions of dollars and thousands of lives into the region and it won’t change a thing.
    Again, I vote we get out as prudently as possible, and, should we be forced to return, use our airpower to send a message that they will not forget.

  • Marlin says:

    Bill –
    You’ve long been skeptical of the effectiveness of the Pakistani armed forces in its efforts against the Pakistani Taliban. Army Col. John Spiszer seems to give them some credit. Do you think he’s overstating their effectiveness?

    Army Col. John Spiszer, who leads a NATO force of about 4,200 troops in four eastern Afghan provinces, said he expects violence to rise through the winter as militants take shelter from Pakistani forces in the mountainous border region.
    “Unfortunately, or fortunately in some ways, the Pakistan military is doing operations that really ultimately are in some ways designed to drive (militants) out of Pakistan,” Spiszer told Pentagon reporters via video link from a NATO base in Nangarhar province.
    Spiszer said the Pakistani operations have been slow but sustained and effective at clearing militant bases.
    “They’re running out of options on places to go,” he said. “We may see some increased violence trends over the winter that we haven’t seen in the past. But if that is the case, it’d be because the Pakistan military’s been taking away their safe havens in Pakistan.”

    Reuters: Pakistani offensive seen boosting Afghan violence

  • cjr says:

    “Afghanistan and the FATA are generations behind what we would refer to as modern societies. They are a tribal/warlord/strongman-centric society. Stability is inconsistent with this societal structure. We can pour billions of dollars and thousands of lives into the region and it won’t change a thing.”
    Modernization is not a neccessary condition. There are several non modern, tribal societies that have successfully ejected AQ: Algeria, Egypt and Iraq for example.
    “Again, I vote we get out as prudently as possible, and, should we be forced to return, use our airpower to send a message that they will not forget.”
    Clinton already tried this in the 1990’s. Cruise missle attacks on Taliban training camps in Afghanistan and the bombing on the “milk factory” in Sudan. Strategy failed miserably.

  • Brandon says:

    Watch this non lethal episode turn into a lethal one…

  • Marlin says:

    Bill –
    As I mentioned in an earlier comment at 1:43 PM today, I know you believe the Pakistani armed forces to be of a very uneven quality, e.g. good in some areas but not in others. However, I do find it reassuring that Admiral Michael Mullen is echoing the comments of Army Col. John Spiszer.

    The top US military officer acknowledged at a Pentagon briefing that Pakistan’s own anti”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    It certainly is a good thing the Pakistanis are fighting the Taliban in Bajaur. But Admiral Mullen should look at how the Pakistanis are fighting in Bajaur. What they are doing – leveling towns, attacking civilians, and threatening tribes with retribution if they do not fight the Taliban, is very counterproductive. The Bajaur operation may have some positive short term results across the border in Afghanistan, but the Pakistani military is alienating the people they should be protecting. This is no way to fight a counterinsurgency.

  • Marlin says:

    I realize it’s just words, but nonetheless the expression of intent to keep NATO supply lines open is hopeful. To Bill’s point in the comment immediately above, it’s ironic that he urges NATO to use better counterterrorism techniques but doesn’t indicate that they should apply to his forces as well.

    “We will do whatever is possible, whatever is within our power to ensure that this line of supply is open,” Kayani told top officers in Brussels, according to Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, head of Nato’s military committee.
    “We understand how critical it is to Afghanistan … and because we want Afghanistan to succeed we would harm ourselves if we did not do our best to ensure that,” Di Paola quoted Kayani as saying.
    In a two-hour presentation, General Ashfaq Kayani also urged Nato to engage with Pashtuns in tribal regions near Afghanistan rather than simply try to seal the border to stop Taliban militants crossing over.
    “There is no force which alone can block (the border). Flow across that line is part of normal life for centuries, will continue to be part of normal life for centuries,” said Di Paola.
    “What can be done, and what should be done is to have the understanding of the people living there, moving across to separate themselves from the bad guys, from the terrorists,” he said.

    AAJ TV: Kayani vows to keep Nato supply line open


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