US President Barack Obama’s administration may be touting a leaner, cheaper US military, but the latest National Defense Authorization Act allows for larger payouts to Central Asian states that are providing logistical cover for the Afghan war effort.
The National Defense Authorization Act 2012, under Section 1213, sets aside an additional $90 million for countries that provide the US military with “logistical, military, and other support including access provided by that nation.” The main potential beneficiaries of the provision would appear to be the Central Asian nations that host the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), now the main supply line for US and NATO forces engaged in Afghanistan.
Since US funds were set aside to compensate “certain coalition nations for support provided to United States military operations,” the amount of money available has increased steadily from $1.2 billion in 2008 to $1.6 billion in 2010 and to $1.69 billion this year. Uzbekistan, which serves as the hub for NDN operations, stands to obtain the largest share of the additional funds.
A US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report, released in December and titled Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan, stated that “since 2009, the United States has increasingly relied on a series of commercial air and ground routes called the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) that carry non-lethal supplies from Europe to US and coalition troops in Afghanistan through Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.”
The report notes that “building support” among host nations for continuing NDN operations has at times presented challenges for the US military. “The United States is forced to rely on highly corrupt, authoritarian governments in countries whose populations are suspicious of US intentions,” the report said.
However, it also acknowledged that a relatively small amount of money can go a long way toward securing the cooperation of regional leaders, As an example it cited a five-year lease agreement, signed by the United States and Kyrgyzstan, covering the use by American forces of the Manas Transit Center outside Bishkek. Under that agreement, the annual rent paid by Washington rose from $17.4 million to $60 million. But that amount is still a relatively modest when considering that during the current fiscal year, the United States is projected to spend almost $120 billion on Afghan-related military operations.
In 2010, the types of incentives the United States could offer in return for NDN cooperation were expanded to include “specialized equipment”, “specialized training to personnel,” and “the procurement and provision of supplies to that nation in connection with such operations.”
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.