The Pakistanis have closed the main roads down into the Afghan theater that ISAF has been using to resupply after a NATO strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Thus we see the first immediate consequences of the drone wars.
For 20 miles north and south of the old Soviet-built tunnel at Salang Pass, thousands of trucks are idled beside the road, waiting for a turn to get through its perilous, one-and-a-half-mile length.
This is the only passable route for heavy truck traffic bringing NATO supplies in from the Central Asian republics to the north, as they now must come.
There are other roads, but they are often single-lane dirt tracks through even higher mountain passes, or they are frequently subject to ambushes by insurgents and bandits. So a tunnel built to handle 1,000 vehicles a day, and until the Pakistani boycott against NATO in November handling 2,000, now tries — and often fails — to let 10,000 vehicles through, alternating northbound and southbound truck traffic every other day.
“It’s only a matter of time until there’s a catastrophe,” said Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, the head of maintenance for the Salang Pass. “One hundred percent certain, there will be a disaster, and when there is, it’s not a disaster for Afghanistan alone, but for the whole international community that uses this road.” He said 90 percent of the traffic now was trailer and tanker trucks carrying NATO supplies.
This little tidbit hardly got any mention on the broadcast news and it shows the immense size of our Afghan operation and how few of our notions of the war there are even accurate. The Pakistanis no longer want NATO to use Pakistanis roads for a supply line. So the only alternative is a mile long tunnel road at the apex of road up the Hindu Kush mountains called the Salang Pass. The Soviets built it so they could resupply their huge army in Afghanistan. The pass itself it always trafficked. In fact, up to a thousand trucks a day are bringing fuel and food and munitions.
The international community uses this very road and avoids what other routes are available because historically they have been used by bandits to ambush wayfarers. The problems with the 1.5 mile tunnel are manifold. Water leaks through. The tunnel is narrow and precarious. On the approached and places where traffic egresses, the roads are so narrow that supply tankers frequently tip over the sides. Yes, both sides. When convoys deploy to the tunnel, all the other traffic in the area, no matter who is driving and what they are carrying comes to a standstill for hours. The tankers and trucks cause so much damage to the roads that a trip through the region that used to take a single day now takes over a week. NATO supply line drivers often have to sleep on the way and must take enough food to last the trip. The interior tunnel lighting no longer works and there is no way to repair it. Finally, the build up of carbon dioxide in the tunnel is enough to kill the drivers when the traffic inside is stalled.
Astonishing isn’t it. We are the largest empire on earth right now and there is only really one road in this whole region to use to get into the Afghan theater. It’s astonishing that our operation requires 1000 trucks a day for resupply and its even more astonishing that most Americans have no idea what is happening here.