Although Pakistan reopened its border with Afghanistan of U.S. and NATO military back in July, traffic there is still moving so slowly that the coalition forces haven't even moved all of the goods that had backed up there -- meaning the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia remains the key means of supplying foreign forces in Afghanistan. That's according to Air Force Col. Robert Brisson, chief of operations for U.S. Transportation Command, in a recent interview with Military Times.
U.S. military officials have spent the past five months wrangling with the Pakistanis over a formal legal agreement and also working to clear out the roughly 7,000 shipping containers that were stalled in transit when the Pakistanis abruptly closed the border crossings in November 2011.
Coalition forces are only able to get between 10 and 50 cargo trucks per day across the border, compared to around 100 before the border was closed, Col. Brisson said.
“We haven’t booked any new cargo into the ports of Karachi and Qasim to move northbound, nor have we started moving new cargo heading southbound out of Afghanistan,” Brisson said.
New cargo may begin moving in late December or January, he said.
The U.S. and Pakistan are still working out the terms of the new agreement to ship goods through that country, and apparently the biggest sticking point is the question of transit fees.
US diplomacy in Central Asia must adapt to a drastic shift in underlying assumptions, a leading American expert on the region contends. Two decades ago, when the five Central Asian states gained independence, regional leaders welcomed Washington’s diplomatic involvement. But today, this is not necessarily the case.
The U.S. spent about $1.3 billion in Central Asia on supplies for its troops in Afghanistan over the most recent fiscal year, including $820 million in Turkmenistan alone. The $1.3 billion represents a sevenfold increase from the previous year, according to figures provided to The Bug Pit by the Defense Logistics Agency, the Pentagon agency in charge of supplying forces. The totals for fiscal year 2012, broken down by country, were:
Kazakhstan: $137.3 million
Kyrgyzstan: $218.1 million
Tajikistan: $11.7 million
Turkmenistan: $820.5 million
Uzbekistan: $105.9 million
DLA was unable to provide any detailed numbers about what was bought in each country, but that eye-popping $820 million in Turkmenistan was certainly almost entirely fuel. In general, the money went to "bottled water, sodas, juices, pasta, bakery items, lumber, plywood, cement, concertina wire, generators, rebar, fuel drums, corrugated steel, galvanized steel coils, and feeder cable. We also support the region by purchasing fuel and paying associated transportation costs," the DLA said in a statement.
The agency has made efforts to boost its Central Asia buying:
"DLA has conducted market research extensively in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan for a wide range of products... DLA has consistently increased procurement in the region since FY08. DLA increased local procurement in the five Central Asian States by over 700% when compared to FY11 figures. In January 2012, DLA placed a liaison officer in the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and one in the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan to help foster increased local procurement efforts."
The goal for the upcoming fiscal year is slightly more than this year, $1.31 billion.
Senior Airman Brett Clashman, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing
General William Fraser, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, visits the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan while on a tour around Central Asia, October 2012
The U.S.'s top military logistics officer, just returned from a trip around Central Asia, has enthusiastically endorsed the notion that American military supply routes in the region can be transformed into a civilian "New Silk Road" after the U.S. pulls its forces out of Afghanistan.
In an interview with American Forces Press Service, General William Fraser added a senior military voice to the apparently re-emergent argument that the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) will act as the foundation for a transformation of trade in Central Asia:
Recognizing that U.S. shipments will diminish over time, leaders in nations supporting the NDN see the routes established to support the war effort in Afghanistan as a path to economic progress, Fraser noted. “I think the NDN is opening up opportunities for the future that these countries can capitalize on,” he said.
Nations are working together in unprecedented ways as a result of NDN agreements and exploring ways to streamline their import and export procedures to encourage cross-border commerce.
“We are already seeing some of that,” Fraser said. “As they look forward to the future, these countries know that the military is not going to be doing things at the same level that we have been for a long time. So they are looking for ways to capitalize on what has happened as a result of the Northern Distribution Network.”
Ambassador Dennise Mathieu, Fraser’s foreign policy advisor who accompanied him on the trip, said these efforts fit into the State Department’s vision of a “New Silk Road” that offers new potential in one of the least economically integrated areas of the world.
Uzbekistan will come crawling back into the arms of Russia as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, says the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Nikolay Bordyuzha. Bordyuzha, speaking at a Moscow event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the organization, emphasized that for the CSTO, Uzbekistan's departure from the Russia-dominated security bloc was no big deal, and even had some positives, he insisted: "For several months we have agreed on many projects and decisions, acceptance of which Uzbekistan was blocking." But its departure from the CSTO will be a big deal for Uzbekistan, he says: "As soon as things get difficult, the situation will change. I don't think this will take long."
It seems that the CSTO doth protest too much. At the organization's security council meeting next month in Moscow, members will "make the final decision" regarding Uzbekistan's membership (apparently without Uzbekistan's input). The frequency with which CSTO officials talk about Uzbekistan reminds one of a guy whose girlfriend dumps him, who then proceeds to constantly talk about how much better off he is without her -- adding that she will probably come back to him anyway when she understands the mistake she's made.
Uzbekistan's government and media have been pretty silent on this issue, but this most recent statement was apparently enough to elicit a response from Fakhriddin Nizamov, writing on Polit.uz.
Apparently, Mr. Bordyuzha rubs his hands with pleasure that the situation in Central Asia will worsen after the announced withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan and events will develop according to a scenario of those whose interests he represents...
Russia has weighed in on ongoing discussions between Turkey and NATO about the possibility of stationing NATO missile defense systems on the Turkey-Syria border, saying that it would destabilize the situation. From RIA Novosti:
"The militarization of the Turkish-Syrian border would be an alarming signal," said ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. "It would do nothing to foster stability in the region."
"Our advice to our Turkish colleagues is to use their influence on the Syrian opposition to draw them closer to dialogue, instead of flexing their muscles and taking the situation down a dangerous path," he added.
A NATO team is making a visit to Turkey next week to assess the possibility of deploying a system there, and NATO is expected to approve the request. Nevertheless, the AP reports that the systems could still be several weeks from being deployed:
Due to the complexity and size of the Patriot batteries, their radars, command-and-control centers, communications and support facilities, they cannot be sent quickly by air to Turkey, officials said.
"These are not drop-and-go systems," said an official who could not be identified in line with standing NATO regulations.
Additional time will be needed to install the systems, realign their radars and link them into Turkey's air defense network before the Patriots can be considered fully operational, the official said.
Scheme of the routes the U.S. military will use to ship its equipment out of Afghanistan.
The U.S. military will need to ship about 2,200 containers and vehicles out of Afghanistan every month for two years to get all of its equipment out of Afghanistan, with about 500 of those passing through Central Asia, according to U.S. Central Command. Of that, 400 are slated to go by rail through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia and another 100 by truck through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus.
Briefing slides presented this fall lay out the requirements that CENTCOM has developed for its retrograde transit:
Rolling Stock (RS) – 1,200 Pieces per Month
Non-Rolling Stock (NRS) – 1,000 Pieces per Month
Perhaps the most interesting part of the slide is the map pictured here, depicting all the various routes that cargo can take out of Afghanistan. The "Russian route" via rail also includes Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the KKT truck route, interestingly, doesn't go through Russia but takes the somewhat longer route to the Caspian Sea port of Aktau, across the sea to Baku, and then through the Caucasus and Turkey en route to Europe.
It's also interesting that the multimodal facilities that the U.S. and NATO have set up in Eurasia -- like Baku, Ulyanovsk (Russia) and Constanta (Romania) -- appear to be low priorities, with pretty large volumes instead going through Dubai and Jordan. Those Middle Eastern hubs are set to get as much traffic as Central Asia, in spite of the fact that things will have to be flown some distance there. As the slides say, the goal is: "Redundancy, Flexibility, No Single Point of Failure!"
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, in Brussels in March.
Armenia has lately been boosting cooperation with both NATO and Russia, prompting questions about how far it can play both sides of the geopolitical conflict.
This fall, Armenia has hosted top NATO officials and the U.S. secretary of the navy, and in September Armenian units trained by the U.S. and NATO countries for deployment in international missions, like that in Afghanistan, conducted an exercise, reported RFE/RL:
[S]ome 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.
But this fall, Armenia also hosted exercises of the Russia-run Collective Security Treaty Organization and has signed an agreement with Russia on joint arms production, a provision of which requires Armenia to "rely exclusively on Russian-made and supplied weapons," writes analyst Richard Giragosian in a piece at Oxford Analytica:
For the first time, Armenia is being excluded from procuring Western arms, limiting its options and potential partners and, at least in theory, hindering its pursuit of interoperability with NATO standards.
Ivanishvili and Rasmussen meet in Brussels, Nov. 14
Georgia's new prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili visited Brussels and NATO headquarters this week, amid worries that recent arrests of top military officials represent political reprisals against the allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Prior to Ivanishvili's visit, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had already voiced his displeasure over the arrests, saying he was "extremely concerned." At a joint press conference after his meeting with Ivanishvili, Rasmussen was a little milder, suggesting he was mostly concerned about Georgia's image:
I am concerned if these trials are perceived to be politically motivated that would be damaging for the image of the country and the government. Even if it's not true. That's my concern. This is the reason why it is of utmost importance to stress that such trials must take place in accordance with the basic principles of rule of law, ensure full transparency, ensure due process. That's what I have made clear.
The Prime Minister has assured me that will be the case. And based on that, I also have to say, and really stress, we're not going to interfere with ongoing trials. We have confidence that they will be conducted without political interference and live up to the fundamental principles of rule of law.
Democracy expert Jay Ulfelder, in a worthwhile blog post, applies some political science to what he calls the "Mexican standoff" between Ivanishvili, Saakashvili and the Georgian security forces, also noting that perception here is at least as important as reality:
With a whiff of the Soviet, a Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense press release reports that the country's armed forces are looking at ways of using "ideology and propaganda" to improve the "patriotism and discipline" of service members -- and they're doing it with the help of the Nur Otan party that dominates politics in Kazakhstan.
A recent two-day meeting in Astana, participants "considered activities of the military authorities to improve the ideological work and strengthening military discipline and military-patriotic education." Said Nurlan Dzhulamanov, deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: "Educational and ideological work conducted by military authorities ... is integral to maintaining high combat readiness and cohesion of units."
The list of participants in the meeting was headed by the "Nur Otan" party that holds complete control over Kazakhstan's politics, but a scan through the MoD's press release archives shows that this isn't the first time the party has been involved in the affairs of the armed forces. Over the past year or so the party helped organize a sort of military camp for children and held a meeting for female servicemembers. And the minister of defense and one top deputy are former high-level Nur Otan party officers.