Afghans Fight Back Their Traditional and Tested Way

As one of its final acts, the outgoing Bush administration has announced plans to double the number of US troops in Afghanistan next year to about 70,000-75,000. In addition, 40,000 US mercenaries are deployed in Afghanistan.

By Eric S. Margolis

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Published: Tue 13 Jan 2009, 12:16 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:55 AM

The eight-year old Afghan conflict seems set to intensify in coming months as the US rushes 30,000 more troops and aviation units into action. Half of Afghanistan is now under control of Taleban and other nationalist forces fighting western occupation.

Twenty thousand American soldiers are slated to come to the aid of beleaguered Canadian, British and Dutch forces in southern Afghanistan. Another 10,000 US troops will be deployed to defend the southern flank of the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is increasingly threatened by resistance forces. The US has begun work on $1.6 billion of new, permanent military installations at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. This city also happens to lie in the direct path of a future pipeline from Central Asia’s resource-rich Caspian Basin to the sea at Karachi.

But as Washington prepares to double its forces in Afghanistan, supplies have become a major problem for the US-led occupation army.

An old saying goes, “armchair generals plan strategy, real generals plan logistics.” Modern mechanised warfare consumes vast quantities of fuel and supplies and depends on elaborate supply trains. America has repeatedly shown it is the world champion in logistics, moving entire armies and fleets across the Pacific, Atlantic, Middle East and now into remote Central Asia. Tribesmen in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province allied to Taleban have been attacking and destroying the US supply convoys, which supply 80 per cent of the needs of western forces in Afghanistan. In one attack alone outside Peshawar, the resistance burned 300 fully laden US supply trucks and Humvees.

Every day, 600-800 trucks haul fuel and 70,000 containers of military material and other supplies from Pakistan’s port of Karachi 1,000 km north to Peshawar, then into Afghanistan.

The main entry into Afghanistan runs up the narrow, twisting, 45-km Khyber Pass, infamous for ambushes by fierce Afridi tribesmen. A secondary route goes north through Quetta, in Pakistani Balochistan. Khyber has been closed by resistance attacks in recent weeks, causing grave shortages for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

I have experienced Khyber’s dangers. In the mid-1980’s, I had to run the pass in an SUV at night at 70 kph with headlamps off, armed only with a pistol and determination not be taken by the Afridi who were being paid by the Communist regime in Kabul to kidnap me.

My driver and I shot our way through an Afridi roadblock and sped down Khyber’s lethal switchbacks, tires smoking and hearts pounding as bullets hit the rear window. Our hearts did not slow down until we reached the Torkham border crossing.

As resistance to the western occupation of Afghanistan grows, Taleban and its allies are increasingly resorting to the time-honoured Afghan tactic of attacking invaders’ supply lines. US and Nato troops are facing growing shortages of fuel, ammunition and even water.

The Pentagon claims this problem is only a minor nuisance. In fact, western commanders are very worried and are forced to increasingly rely on expensive air transport to supply their isolated, often besieged bases. Afghanistan’s Soviet invaders encountered the same problem.

The supply issue is now serious that the US is developing an enormously complex, expensive 5,500 km alternative route that begins in Ukraine, transits southern Russia and Kazakhstan, heads south through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, then into northern Afghanistan. Russia has apparently agreed to the transit of non-weapons NATO cargos and some overflights.

To activate this second supply route, the US must make large payments and political concessions to the ugly Stalinist dictatorships of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan who have a foul human rights record. A sharp irony, since the US claims to be waging war in Afghanistan to promote democracy. Uzbekistan has made a special name for itself by boiling alive political prisoners.

Will the bankrupt US be able to afford such lavish expenditures on a minor war whose real objectives are: a. gaining access to the oil and gas wealth of Central Asia; b. preventing the NATO alliance from being defeated in its only war. That remains to be seen. But the war will intensify and spread in 2009 and, ominously, continue spreading ever deeper into Pakistan.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist who has reported from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years

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