Saturday, May 19, 2012

Withdrawal Pain

Logistics in warfare still matter.  They matter at the start, in the middle, and as the Financial Times reported last week, they matter at the end (May 17, 2012 - Bringing It All Back Home, by Carola Hoyas).  The article highlights the complexity and cost of pulling $60 billion worth of equipment (total coalition forces) out of the landlocked war zone of Afghanistan.  Complexity, cost and a simple fact - - "No army has retreated from Afghanistan without coming under fire" - - all drive the arithmetic of the operation.

Geography provides an answer to the scope of the problem.  There is an accessible port to the south at Karachi in Pakistan.  This would be the quickest and cheapest - - but also subject to risks of heavy insurgent attacks.  The "northern distribution network" is an alternative - - via Central Asia.  This route offers autocratic regimes, steep mountains, and criminal networks (per the travel guides).  The Pakistan border is currently closed, but could reopen.  The political terrain of this route looks ugly. 

Interesting facts regarding the scale of the operation - -
  • Value of the U.S. equipment - $49 billion.  This conflict has required vastly more equipment (the article never really details why - - the "why" has a profound impact on our economic and national security).  Most of the equipment would be of little value to the Afghan military (but a gold mine to the global black market arms trade).
  • Value of the coalition force equipment - $60 billion.  This includes 70,000 vehicles.  Equipment will be packed into 130,000 containers.  Assuming half the value can be packed into containers - - each container would have an equipment "value" of $230,769.
  • If the Pakistan border does open, the daily "transit fee" demanded by Pakistan is $1 million.
  • Annual U.S. funding for transit countries - $500 million (not sure the who, what, and why from the article on this line item - - remarkable when a number like $500 million looks like a rounding error in the context of a $60 billion bill).
  • Railways are decrepit in the region - - the political leadership refuses to ride on the trains.
  • Cost of shipping one container via the northern distribution network - - $17,500 (shipping all 130,000 containers this route would cost $2.3 billion).  Roughly 8% of the value of a fully loaded container.
  • Cost of shipping one container via the Pakistan route would cost $7,200 (total of $936 million - - what are friends for if they cannot help you save $1.33 billion).

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