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Apr 7, 2014 | 16:24 GMT

2 mins read

Supply Routes from Russia to Afghanistan

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Supply Routes from Russia to Afghanistan

A Russian official has proposed severing some parts of the transport corridor NATO uses to move soldiers and supplies into Afghanistan. This corridor, known as the Northern Distribution Network, is a sprawling web of roads and railways running from northern Afghanistan through a host of countries. Three of the four main routes pass through Russian territory. Beginning in early 2012, the Northern Distribution Network, in conjunction with strategic airlifts, bore most of the logistics burden for the war in Afghanistan, including 85 percent of fuel supplies.

Waging expeditionary warfare in a landlocked country such as Afghanistan is expensive. Were Russia to deny access to the Northern Distribution Network, transportation costs would rise significantly. NATO, however, has alternatives and a disruption of the network would not pose a significant threat to the combat power of the remaining NATO-led International Security Assistance Force or its ability to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

NATO, though, would be forced to revert to an older route that was largely abandoned because of differences with the host country, Pakistan. After the initial invasion of Afghanistan, supply routes primarily involved transit by truck across two main routes through Pakistan from the port of Karachi. This gave Pakistan enormous leverage over U.S. military policy in Afghanistan. When Pakistan's interests diverged from those of the United States, Pakistan could threaten to cut off access to the supply routes to bring the United States to the negotiating table. On top of this, although the Pakistani routes are the shortest and cheapest of all the land route options, they run through regions with a high risk of militant attacks. The United States had no ability to enforce security in these regions.

These factors prompted U.S. planners to develop the Northern Distribution Network as an alternative in 2008. Loss of this route would lead to a return to the problems of the old route and Pakistan might, at least temporarily, reclaim some of the leverage it lost when it was no longer the sole supply route for coalition forces. 

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