Washington: The US is working to reduce its dependence on the Pakistani route for taking supplies for its soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, given the volatile nature of that way, a top Pentagon official told US lawmakers.
Given the unpredictable nature of Pakistan, the Pentagon is also working to maintaining weeks of reserve of its resources in Afghanistan so as to handle any kind of contingencies or disruption in the supply route.
Testifying before a Congressional Committee, Lt Gen Mitchell Stevenson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, revealed for the first time that as much as 60 percent of American supply to Afghanistan is already going through the north and the Pakistani route was being used for 40 percent of the supplies.
The target though is to take 75 percent of the supplies into Afghanistan from the north through the Central Asian countries.
"Currently, it`s about 40 percent of the total supplies shipped into Afghanistan on the surface, that don`t fly in, come through Pakistan, the other 60 percent from the north," Stevenson said in response to a question from Senator Kelly A Ayotte.
Explaining that the US is taking a number of steps to deal with potential problems, Stevenson said disruptions of supply line were not uncommon and informed that a sit-down strike was on currently outside the port, that US trucks are not able to get through.
"It`s going to probably last a couple of days – not uncommon. We`ve dealt with this before, but as you point out, this is problematic for us. The goal is to get to 75 percent from the north. We`re not there yet," he said, adding that was a goal established by the TRANSCOM commander to his staff.
Given the volatile nature of the Pakistani supply route, the Pentagon general said the US is taking a lot of precautions in sending its supplies through that road.
"We`re sending nothing that is what we consider sensitive on the ground -- no ammunition flows on the ground, no high-tech military gear flows -- we even flew the MATVs (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) in the theatre rather than send them and potentially subject them to pilferage," he said.
In addition to these steps, Pentagon is also experimenting with sending things surface to a friendly country and then flying it to Afghanistan.
"We`re in an open hearing, so I`d rather not get into the details but a friendly country in the Mideast and then just flying over from there using C-17s. It takes advantage of the inexpensiveness of surface movement but avoids that entire trip into Pakistan," he said.
Pakistan had last year blocked a major NATO supply line into Afghanistan in retaliation for a cross-border helicopter attack, and opened it only after the US tendered an official apology.
"We have created what we call theatre-provided equipment. It`s a pool of equipment that just stays in Afghanistan so that we don`t -- as a unit rotates out each year, it doesn`t have to drag out its equipment and the new unit has to bring in its own. We just keep the equipment there," Stevenson said.
He said this strategy necessitates refurbishing of the equipment every two or three years, but the idea is to "keep things off that ground lock".
He said avoiding the land route in Pakistan would be cheaper in the long run as it would avoid pilferage and other problems.
"We`ve just done that with two BCTs that have flown in and flowed out. We`re happy with it. It`s a bit more expensive but in the long run, we think that it will be cheaper in the long run because we avoid all the pilferage and problems with that," Stevenson said.
Also Pentagon has upped the fuel stockage that they have on the ground to 45 days of supply in Afghanistan. "So we have got 45 days of fuel on the ground to withstand these kinds of disruptions. We`ve increased the amount of material we fly.”
"We`ve increased our air drop, which is already pretty high. We try to flow more in from the north than we are today," he said.
"It is longer and more expensive, so there`s some downside to using that route. I honestly believe we`d overcome it. I don`t think it would stop our operations in Afghanistan, but it would certainly be a challenge," Stevenson said.