Thursday, December 17, 2009

Logistics 'Bridge' Supports Afghan Conflict

By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department moves troops and supplies into land-locked Afghanistan via an air-and-land logistics "bridge" that transits Central Asia, a senior defense official said at a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday.

The air-and-ground transport and supply routes, known as the Northern Distribution Network, are employed "to ship supplies through Central Asia to our troops in Afghanistan," David Samuel Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Central Asia affairs.

Central Asia spans from the Caspian Sea in the west to central China in the east, and from southern Russia to the north to northern India to the south. Countries in the region include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northeastern Iran, northwestern India, and western parts of China.

Since November 2008, Sedney said, Pentagon and State Department officials "worked with Central Asia governments to build a robust transit network that supports our shared fight against the threat of extremism."

For example, U.S. forces have access to the Manas Transit Center near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Sedney said. The center is managed primarily by the U.S. Air Force. The facility is located next to Manas International Airport, through which the majority of U.S. combat troops are transported to Afghanistan.

"We greatly appreciate the willingness of the Kyrgyz government to continue its support in our common struggle," he said, "and look forward to maintaining this important link in our logistical network."

The Defense Department conducts military overflights of most countries in Central Asia, Sedney said.

"We have close relationships with each transit country," he said, "and are working to increase over flights and open new flight paths."

President Barack Obama's directive to deploy 30,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan in coming months means the supply mission will be ramped up, Sedney said. Nearly 5,000 supply containers, he said, have been shipped to the war theater via the Northern Distribution Network over the past 11 months.

"We will expand this number in 2010 to meet the new demand, and will continue to support our effort to defeat al-Qaida," he said.

Another component of the logistics system is a local purchasing program, Sedney said, which works with Central Asian businesses to buy materials for use in Afghanistan. "We save money on shipping, while local economies benefit from increased trade," he explained.

The Northern Distribution Network, Sedney said, provides "an effective means to resupply our warfighters and provides capacity and redundancy to complement our heavily burdened lines through Pakistan."

Meanwhile, department officials also are working with some Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan to address local issues of security and humanitarian relief, Sedney said.

"With the help of [Defense Department] training, our partner governments are building modern counterterrorist, peacekeeping and de-mining capabilities," Sedney said.

Through this engagement, he added, the United States and participating Central Asian nations "work together to create stable governments, peaceful societies and a secure zone" north of Afghanistan.