30,000 more troops to Afghanistan – but how to get them there?

Gen. Duncan McNabb, head of the US Transportation Command, is in the thick of deciding how to get 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, per President Obama’s order. It won’t be easy.

U.S. Air Force

General Duncan McNabb heads the US Transportation Command and will help oversee the “surge” of US troops into landlocked Afghanistan. He discussed logistical challenges of that task with a group of reporters in Washington on Dec. 9.

On how to get 30,000 additional US troops and their equipment to Afghanistan by next fall:

“We’re at about the point where 50 percent is going through Pakistan, 30 percent from the Northern Distribution Network [commercial arrangements that connect Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus], and 20 percent by air. We take everything lethal and sensitive by air.... What I’m trying to make sure is that we have the capacity from the north and the Pakistan side. We don’t have all of that in place, but that’s where I’d like to be.”

On the plan if any one point of entry fails or must be closed:

“I want to make sure we can bring everything in by air, but that would be really hard to do.”

On the challenge of transporting materiel within Afghanistan:

“The big thing is: Once we get the stuff in, how do you distribute it [out to US forces] within the country?... You can secure the area to get convoys through, or you can run convoys with armed protection, or you can bring it through vertically, using helicopters, aircraft, or ‘airdrops’ [in which equipment parachutes down from an aircraft].... You’ve seen [airdrops] increase dramatically.”

On flying over other countries’ airspace to reach Afghanistan:

“We’ve done two flights over Russia. That was more to make sure we’ve got the machine right. As you can imagine, the connection of commercial air routes, coming over the eastern air routes, over Russia, you have to do some deconfliction. Also, it doesn’t mean just Russia, because you’ve got to come down through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. So eventually you have to make sure all of those countries say, ‘We’re good with you coming in through this way.’ All of that is being worked now.”

On President Obama’s desire for speed:

“He wants to do it as quickly as possible, and I absolutely understand that. My take is, [Gens. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus, US Central Command commander] will decide what sequence they want, what are their priorities. And if we have a constraint and we say, ‘OK, you can’t stuff all that stuff in at the same time,’ then we ask them, ‘What stuff is most important?’ ”

On the drawdown from Iraq and how it could affect the Afghanistan surge:

“There is a lot of equipment and forces ... sitting in Iraq that perhaps they may decide they want to move [to Afghanistan], especially support and enabling forces.... So that’s one thing that, in some ways, makes it easier, because that’s a much shorter route. We’d probably bring it down through Kuwait and bring it across.... [T]hat’s one of the big puzzles when we talk about how fast can we [insert forces and equipment into Afghanistan]. It depends on what are the final forces [in Iraq]. We’ll do all the things that the president expects us to do.”

On how much materiel is in Iraq:

“We figure the amount of stuff coming out is ... 250 ship equivalents, when you take the whole thing.... Pretty much all of this is ... [being moved by] surface. Some of it will be going to Afghanistan, but a lot ... will be coming back [to the US].”

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