Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Logisticians Ready for Afghan Transportation Task

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - U.S. military logisticians are up to the challenge of getting 30,000 more American troops into Afghanistan and moving troops and equipment from Iraq, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command said today.

Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb told the Defense Writers Group that the command is well able to handle the demands being placed on it.

Transcom has worked for years to develop supply lines into Afghanistan – one of the most remote and difficult countries in the world. The nation is landlocked and has some of the highest mountains in the world. Only five passes are available to get supplies into Afghanistan by land, and U.S. officials are studying them all.

"We need to look at all options," McNabb said. "You need other options in case the main supply route goes down."

McNabb said he isn't too concerned about moving 30,000 servicemembers and their equipment into Afghanistan, because the command already has done it. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 combat forces into the country. "With support troops, that was about 30,000," he said.

Most of the combat troops – especially the Stryker brigade combat team – had to arrive in time for the Afghan elections in August. "We're talking roughly the same numbers – maybe some NATO allies that we will transport – and equipment over roughly the same time," McNabb said. "On the positive side, we've just done that. On the more difficult side, we're talking about doing it in December."

Winter makes the effort a bit harder, the general explained. Still, over the past 18 months in anticipation of increasing forces in Afghanistan, the command made sure the airfields in the region could handle the traffic. Officials also worked to maximize cargo and personnel throughput, and ensured the cargo handling and air traffic control teams were in place.

McNabb said he told Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command commander, and Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, "that our job is to make sure we give you lots of options, and that we're going to get the stuff through."

If the command has to get everything into Afghanistan by air, McNabb said, Transcom has the assets needed to make it happen. "If I have to bring this stuff all in by air, it will be a lot more expensive," he said. "But if we need to do that, we can, and that's our ace in the hole."

More than likely, the command will use all transportation modes to get personnel, cargo and supplies in. The main supply line is through Pakistan from the port of Karachi. About 50 percent of cargo and supplies use this route. Another 30 percent of cargo uses the Northern Distribution Route, a series of railroad routes, with some running from northern Europe and others coming via the Black Sea, then over land. The final 20 percent is delivered by air. "We take everything lethal and sensitive in by air," the general said.

With these various supply lines, enough capacity exists to sustain the effort, McNabb said. "I basically would like to have double the capacity that we need, just to be sure, and we're very close to that now," he added.

Moving an Army brigade combat team requires airlifting 1,200 short tons, requiring 50 to 60 C-17 Globemaster III transport jet missions. Each brigade requires roughly 200,000 square feet of cargo space, which comes out to between one and two ships. The brigades have about 3,500 soldiers who board C-17s or C-130 Hercules transports in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, for the trip into Afghanistan.

Transcom is involved not only in getting personnel and cargo to the country, but also in distributing it upon arrival. "Once you get stuff in, how do you distribute it throughout the country? You have three choices: secure the area to get convoys through, run convoys with armed protection or you can get stuff in vertically," McNabb said.

"Vertically" means bringing goods in via helicopters or by airdrop from fixed-wing aircraft. Use of airdrop has increased dramatically, the general said. "We did 2 million pounds of airdrop in all of 2005," he said. "In September 2009, we did 4 million pounds. We're going to be up around 19 million to 20 million for this year."

Transcom officials are working with U.S. Central Command and with U.S. Joint Forces Command to work out the scheduling of the move, McNabb said.

"Right now, the transportation and movement is not the long pole in the tent; getting those bases built and ready to receive the forces is," he said.