Militants attacked a trucking terminal in the northern Pakistan city of Peshawar today, setting ablaze 16 Humvees and bulldozers bound for U.S. and NATO forces. Today’s attack follows similar attack yesterday where militants set fire to more than 20 trucks that were also sat on a lot, loaded with supplies for NATO forces, the Pakistani English language paper Dawn reported.
Both attacks occurred within Peshawar’s environs, not on some isolated stretch of road up in the Khyber. In both cases, at least two dozen militants disarmed the security guards, who I’m guessing were not that heavily armed, and then went about torching the vehicles.
As Bill Roggio over at Long War Journal notes, yesterday’s attack was the first since a Feb. 3 attack on a NATO convoy in the Jamrud region in the Khyber tribal agency. Roggio counts up at least 450 NATO vehicles and containers having been destroyed by militant attacks in the Peshawar area in recent months. Pakistani Taliban lieutenant Hakeemullah Mehsud is leading the supply line attacks as he expands his power and influence in the tribal territories, Roggio writes.
Close to 80 percent of supplies bound for U.S. and NATO troops run the overland route from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, north to Peshawar, then across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Cargo ships offload in Karachi, a city more under the control of various militant and criminal gangs than the government, then the road either skirts or transits directly through Pakistani Taliban territory almost its entire length. As the Pakistani Taliban have grown in strength over the past few years, attacks on the supply line have correspondingly increased.
To keep a modern land army fed, fueled and armed requires a secure land route. Aerial resupply is not an option. The U.S. and NATO have negotiated with Russia for an overland route through the Central Asian republics. Some NATO countries, and reportedly even the U.S., are in discussions with Iran over possibly using Iranian ports and highways to move supplies and equipment to Afghanistan.
Keeping the coalition in Afghanistan supplied is shaping up to be one of the most challenging aspects of the entire endeavor, and one which didn't really exist a year or so ago. Maintaining an army of some 140,000 troops in Iraq would have been impossible without Kuwait's good graces, a friendly nation that allowed us to turn it's territory into a supply depot, training ground and transit point for men and material. Pakistan is not and never will be a Kuwait.
When the Russians occupied Afghanistan, they at least had a secure overland route to friendly territory. There may be an upper limit to the number of troops the Obama administration can deploy to Afghanistan until they get the supply issue nailed down.