On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that "More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001."[1]  --  But Ann Scott Tyson omitted from her article the relation of these numbers of wounded to the supplying U.S. troops in land-locked Afghansitan.  --  In a piece written in February, a website called The Redhunter discussed the problem of supply lines to Afghanistan.[2]  --  "Even in our modern age, supply via land route is the only thing that works, as aircraft alone simply do not have the capability to supply anything but the smallest force," said the conservative blogger, who pointed out that Pakistan is the only practical land route to Afghanistan.  --  He quoted a December 2008 piece in the Washington Times by Arnaud de Borchgrave that observed:  "All food, fuel, and equipment for 70,000 foreign soldiers come by road from Karachi.  Some 30,000 more U.S. troops are due in before summer, for a total of 65,000 Americans, bringing the total of foreign troops to about 100,000.  They will all depend on the world's most vulnerable lifeline."  --  In a piece posted Saturday on the website of World Politics Review, Kari Lipschutz said that "Afghanistan is a difficult place to supply, and according to [Jeff] McCausland, [senior fellow at the Carnegie Council, professor, and former dean of academics of the U.S. Army War College,] more and more supplies are being intercepted by the Taliban in the notorious Khyber pass.  So while we might be able to deploy more troops, feeding and arming them properly will become even more difficult, especially as Afghanistan heads into winter."[3]  --  So difficult is maintenance of troops in Afghanistan that the Pentagon's low-ball estimate of the annual cost of maintaining each soldier there is $500,000, CNN reported Friday.[4] ...



By Ann Scott Tyson

** Three-month total in Afghanistan surpasses 1,000 **

Washington Post

October 31, 2009


More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The dramatic increase in amputees and other seriously injured service members comes as October marks the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Expanded military operations, a near-doubling of the number of troops since the beginning of the year and a Taliban offensive that has included a proliferation of roadside bombings have led to the great increase in casualties.  U.S. troops in Afghanistan are suffering wounds at a higher rate than those who were serving in Iraq when violence spiraled during the military "surge" two years ago.  In mid-2007, 600 U.S. troops were wounded in Iraq each month out of about 150,000 troops deployed there.  In Afghanistan, about 68,000 troops are currently installed, with about 350 wounded each month recently.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged that the casualties in Afghanistan have surpassed Iraq surge proportions and noted that the violence in Afghanistan is directed more against U.S. and other coalition forces, whereas it was heavily sectarian in Iraq.  "It shows you how we are the targets and how effectively they are targeting us," Morrell said.

He noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has become concerned about the rising number of wounded and has ordered thousands of additional support troops to Afghanistan to look for, and minimize, the roadside bombs.

Military doctors say the nature of the Afghanistan casualties is reminiscent of those in Iraq in 2007.  "We're seeing similar types of injuries from Afghanistan that we saw in Iraq" before and during the surge, said Lt. Col. Shelton Davis, chief of physical medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

More than 1,000 improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, exploded or were found in Afghanistan in August, more than double any monthly total until this summer.  The bombs account for 70 to 80 percent of U.S. and coalition casualties in that country, according to Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, director of the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Metz told military reporters this week that IEDs are now the "weapon of choice" for Taliban fighters.  The bombs are so powerful, he said, that they can take out the latest mine-resistant vehicles the Pentagon has employed to protect troops.  In addition, insurgents have begun targeting troops on foot.  He said that the rise in bombings has coincided with the doubling of U.S. troop numbers this year and that further troop increases -- now under consideration by President Obama -- would bring more bombs.

As U.S. ground forces moved in this year, Metz said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week, "the enemy was ready with a very thick array of IEDs. . . . Those soldiers and Marines ran into those IEDs, and it was what we predicted."

Walter Reed's Ward 57 provides wrenching proof of the devastating effectiveness of the bombs, with patients suffering amputations, spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, and fractures.

On Aug. 18, Lt. Dan Berschinski, 25, of Peach Tree City, Ga., was serving as a platoon leader with the Stryker brigade combat team in Kandahar province, where the roads were laced with bombs and his unit had to operate without engineer support or mine-detection equipment.  His platoon was crossing a footbridge when a bomb threw Berschinski to the ground, deafened a sergeant and blew up Pfc. Jonathan Yanney, a radio operator.  An initial search located part of Yanney's shredded helmet, pieces of a boot and some small body parts that Berschinski said team members put in a plastic bag.

Realizing that not only the roads but also the foot trails were too dangerous, Berschinski and his men moved on by walking through shin-high water.  Regrouping in a mud-walled compound later that day, Berschinski was passing a gate when another bomb blew up underneath him, bouncing him off a wall and tossing him back into the crater that had formed.

"I immediately reached down -- up, really, since I was upside down -- for my legs.  I could tell they were gone," Berschinski said in a written account provided by his family.  His right leg and hip and his left leg above the knee were amputated.  According to Metz, few soldiers have survived stepping on such bombs.

But the survival rate among the wounded is greater than in previous conflicts because of improved first aid, quick evacuations to field hospitals and better armored protection.


As more wounded flow in, hospitals must adjust.  "We can open more beds as needed and bring on more staff as needed.  As you can imagine, that is not without its own challenges," said Col. Paul Pasquina, chief of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Walter Reed and the Bethesda National Naval Medical Hospital.  He noted that although military medical personnel are in demand stateside, they also must deploy overseas.

"The ward is pretty full now," said Tracy Glascoe, a physician assistant on Ward 57.

One significant challenge, she said, is helping wounded troops transition from a regimen of constant ward care so that they can work on further physical rehabilitation.

Resting the stub of his right leg on his hospital bed one day last week, Spec. Harrison Ruzicka, 23, said he is eager for physical therapy.  Ruzicka, who is from North Carolina knows he faces a long recovery but said he was thankful to be alive after a bomb flipped his armored vehicle into a river on Aug. 7.

He recalled being pinned under the vehicle and fearing he could drown in the river. He said he screamed for help but quickly realized no one was there.  He somehow got loose, swam to the embankment and dragged himself onto land with his arms.  He knew his legs were broken.  "I didn't want to look at them because I would have put myself in shock," he said.

He started calling for his good friend, vehicle driver Sgt. Jerry R. Evans Jr., 23, of Eufaula, Ala.  "I was in his wedding party," Ruzicka said.  "There was no response. Nothing from him."



By Tom

The Redhunter
February 12, 2009


It's been said that "amateurs discuss strategy, pros talk logistics."  This may be a bit overstated, but it is true that too many people talk about sending troops here or there without any thought about how to get them there or how to keep them supplied.  And as many generals throughout history have discovered, it's all very fine to move an army from point A to point B, but if you can't keep them supplied they will be destroyed very fast.  Even in our modern age, supply via land route is the only thing that works, as aircraft alone simply do not have the capability to supply anything but the smallest force.  Just ask Friedrich Paulus.

It is hard enough, I am sure, to keep our forces in Iraq supplied with all that they need.  Much of the material is offloaded in Kuwait and trucked into the country, but in the end at least Iraq has seaports so worst case scenario we can use Iraqi ports.  In most of our foreign wars we have had had direct access to seaports for supplying our troops.  In all theaters of WWII, in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War we were able to supply our troops without having to go through a third country.

Not so with Afghanistan.  It is completely landlocked, and surrounded by the following countries:  Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.  Iran is obviously unfriendly.  The first three 'stans' are hard to get to in the first place.  China only has a small border with Afghanistan, and is out of the question as a supply route anyway.  That leaves Pakistan.  Take a look:

The point of this post is not to formulate a policy or create a plan by which we can win in Afghanistan (though surely we must).  This is rather one in a series of posts in which I will discuss the geopolitical situation in and around the country and explain why it's so hard to make progress.

What first made me think of this was an editorial by Arnaud de Borchgrave in the *Washington Times* last December (it's taken me awhile to put this together).  Here's the key excerpt:  "The U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan receive 70 percent of their supplies overland from Karachi, Pakistan's port city of 15 million, now the world's most vulnerable lifeline.

"More than 350 trucks and oil tankers transit the Khyber Pass each day where Afghan drivers take over from Pakistanis.  Earlier in December, Taliban guerrillas firebombed more than 200 trucks and Humvees in a gigantic parking lot.  The battle for the allied supply line was joined.

"Up and until now, Pakistani militant attacks against the convoys were kept secret, e.g., 42 oil tankers destroyed in one day last spring.  Now they take place between Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) next to the Khyber tribal agency, and the Khyber Pass itself, normally less than an hour by car.  U.N. workers are pulling out of Peshawar, described by *The News*, a Pakistani daily, as 'a city under siege' and 'the kidnapping capital of the world.'

"Increasingly brazen, some Taliban commanders now bypass the need to attack convoys protected by private security guards by charging tolls to let them through safely into Afghanistan.

"The London *Times*' Tom Coghlan discovered some convoys got through roadblocks with a Taliban commander in the lead vehicle after paying $1,000 per truck, which is then added to NATO and U.S. bills.

"All food, fuel, and equipment for 70,000 foreign soldiers come by road from Karachi.  Some 30,000 more U.S. troops are due in before summer, for a total of 65,000 Americans, bringing the total of foreign troops to about 100,000.  They will all depend on the world's most vulnerable lifeline.

"The United States is looking for alternative supply routes from the Georgian Black Sea port Poti through former Soviet republics.  This presupposes a new quid pro quo between the Kremlin and President-elect Barack Obama.  Given the Soviet Union's 1989 defeat in Afghanistan, and what it sees as U.S. marauding in its former 'near abroad,' the price may be too high."

What led to de Borchgrave's concern was the increasingly percarious situation inside of Pakistan.  The U.S. has been sending our Predator drones over Pakistan, and firing on insurgent bases and terrorist leaders.  No matter how careful one is in war, it is inevitable that civilians are killed.  When they are it is exploited by jihadist sympathizers, many of whom hold prominent office in the Pakistani government and military.  All of this leads to anti-American sentiment.  Worst case, the government is taken over by a hard-line Islamist element which puts a stop to U.S. supply routes through their country.

If this happens we're looking forward to a Stalingrad on our hands. Anyone who brazenly says we should "shoot our way through" Pakistan is being silly.

Take another look

[MAP: Map Supply Routes Afghanistan]

The flip side is that if we restrict our operations to Afghanistan, we grant the enemy a safe haven.  Of course, it is a prime element of counterinsurgency warfare not to allow your enemy a sanctuary.  Our commanders are therefore faced with a difficult decision; attack inside Pakistan and risk a backlash that could have dire consequences, or grant the enemy a sanctuary and lose the war that way.

Knowing all this, our commanders have been looking for alternate supply routes.  This Dec 30 story in the International Herald Tribune describes the effort to find a route through the northern 'stans:  "The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they launched an offensive against militants in the region.

"The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and American Humvees over recent weeks.  More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.

"But the new arrangements could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights."

So although it makes strategic sense to look to these countries for transit rights, using them opens us to the criticism that we're doing business with human rights abusers and looking the other way at their nefarious deeds.  Of course, this is just the criticism we get over our relationship with Pakistan, but adding to it never helps.

Ever at it, just yesterday Arnaud de Borchgrave had another piece in the Washington Times updates us with the latest:  "Elevated to the rank of 'Major non-NATO Ally' by President Bush (43), Pakistan is now deemed too dangerous for the hundreds of U.S. and NATO supply trucks that keep allied forces fighting against Taliban in Afghanistan.

"In the latest attack against the NATO lifeline, 11 trucks and 13 containers were demolished outside Peshawar, near the northern end of the 600-mile route from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass.  This followed the attack and collapse of a key bridge near the Khyber Pass, which backed up some 1,000 trucks all the way back to Karachi.  Normally, some 600 supply trucks a day cross the border into Afghanistan. . . .

"On any given day, there are 3 million gallons of fuel on Pakistani roads destined for allied forces in Afghanistan.  In some cases, Taliban extracted payments of $1,000 per vehicle at the point of a gun.  Helicopter engines valued at $13 million were also hijacked.  Taliban fighters gave Pakistani drivers certificates guaranteeing their trucks were requisitioned, not stolen."

That's not good.  Not having another source I have no perspective, and de Borchgrave does tend to always see the bad side of things.  But that, too, is valuable, as it provides a sort of "red team" alternative view.

As de Borchgrave points out later in the article, for all the promise of the northern 'stans, relying on them creates its own set of problems.  One, they're not terribly accessible themselves, which means we spend a lot of time and money just getting to Afghanistan.  Second, they're right by Russia, who if annoyed with us over something could shut down our supply routes and there would be little we could do to stop them.

There are no easy solutions for Afghanistan, something our new president will soon find out.  I wish him well, and hope that he has the fortitude to do what it takes as long as it takes there.  In a future piece I'll examine the "long war" concept and why it is foolish to think we can win there in just a few years.



By Kari Lipschutz

World Politics Review

October 31, 2009


Jeff McCausland, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council, wears many hats.  As a retired Army colonel who's on a first name basis with Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, he has an acutely military perspective on the war in Afghanistan.  As an analyst, professor, and former dean of academics of the U.S. Army War College, he also sees the conflict through an academic lens.  When McCausland spoke to a small group at the council's headquarters in New York yesterday, he combined these two perspectives and outlined the unique challenges of this particular war.

To surge or not to surge?  That's the question at the center of the current strategic review in Washington.  But as that debate moves toward a conclusion, McCausland cautioned that while a surge would be possible, it would not be easy to implement.  Beyond the question of having ample time to properly train troops for deployment, there is also the issue of logistics when boots hit the ground.  Afghanistan is a difficult place to supply, and according to McCausland, more and more supplies are being intercepted by the Taliban in the notorious Khyber pass.  So while we might be able to deploy more troops, feeding and arming them properly will become even more difficult, especially as Afghanistan heads into winter.

McCausland noted that Taliban fighters, too, are constrained by Afghanistan's harsh winter, resulting in the yearly drop-off in violence over the winter months.  But he pointed to another area that will be impacted by the weather:  the democratic process.  As run-off elections in Afghanistan approach, poor weather is just one more reason for many Afghans to stay at home, especially given the scale of the first-round irregularities.  That, in turn, will have implications for the long-term goal of establishing the Afghan government's legitimacy.

McCausland touched on other issues that are familiar to those following the debate closely -- including the need to grow the Afghan security forces and to strengthen provincial governments.   He also argued for a more cohesive front from coalition forces who, due to domestic politics and differing rules of engagement, have not agreed on a conflict-wide strategy.

McCausland drew comparisons to past United States conflicts, and predicted that Afghanistan will easily be the longest one yet, surpassing the eight-year-long Vietnam War.  "History doesn't repeat itself," he said, "but it rhymes."

He commended the White House's refusal to hastily roll out an Afghanistan policy.  But, McCausland warned, just because the United States decides on a strategy in the coming weeks doesn't mean the Taliban will go along with it.  "The enemy gets a vote," he said.



By Barbara Starr

October 30, 2009


If President Obama decides to send the 40,000 additional forces to Afghanistan as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a rough estimate by the Pentagon projects the cost could be an additional $20 billion a year, according to a senior Pentagon official.

The official said the Defense Department comptrollers office has told Congress that based on rough estimates, the total cost of keeping an individual service member in the war zone is now about $500,000 a year.

That includes the costs of personnel operations and maintenance costs, some equipment, and hazardous duty pay.

The actual costs could be higher, because the estimate does not include the cost of constructing additional facilities, providing support forces such as military intelligence assets that may be based outside Afghanistan, or replacing damaged weapons or equipment.  The official emphasized that until there is a formal troop plan, the costs are just estimated.

The official would not be identified because the estimates are not official.

The ongoing review of the strategy for Afghanistan continued Friday, with Obama meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the heads of the four military services.

The heads of the Army and Marines, who provide the bulk of troops for the war, have expressed concern that if they send a large number of additional troops, they will have to cut down on the time troops spend in between deployments, known as "dwell time."

Marines have only about 8,000 troops they can add without impinging on dwell time. The Army has about 12 brigades, or approximately 48,000 soldiers, that are not deployed or committed to deploy.

Regardless of the number of troops being sent, a deployment will be phased over time because of the lack of facilities in the country to house and support a large deployment, the official said.

McChrystal's plan calls for sending a majority of the forces he is requesting to the south, especially to reinforce Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and the region around Kabul, several military and Pentagon sources said. McChrystal also intends to reserve a number of forces for training Afghan forces, officials said.

But one official noted that if that plan is put into effect, additional forces would be needed to be sent to areas that the Taliban might then flee, such as the northern region.