Contrary to the War Nerd, I thought the Georgia-Russia war was/is anything but the war of my dreams. That is for reasons I won't outline in detail, but to give some contrast with said source, I could write a long piece full of exclamation marks and angry statements about all sides. I just won't do that, since this is a blog mostly about Afghanistan nowadays.
Ghosts of Alexander posted very early on on the issue I'm bringing up here, see: this one. I remember the Russians saying about one day later that NATO should consider the more important issues Russia and NATO are working on together.
Now Russia has come to this decision (AP reports - version linked to at 20:55 CET, August 21, 2008):
" Russia has halted all military cooperation with NATO, the Western alliance said Thursday, in the latest sign of East-West tension over the invasion of Georgia.
Alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said NATO had received notification through military channels that Russia's Defense Ministry had taken a decision "to halt international military cooperation events between Russia and NATO countries until further instructions."
The United States immediately played down the significance of the Russian decision, saying that NATO had already effectively frozen cooperation in protest at Russia's continued military presence in much of Georgia.
"For all practical purposes, military-to-military cooperation had really already been ended with the Russians," said U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, with vacationing President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas.
"I can't imagine a circumstance right now that we would engage in military cooperation with the Russians until the situation in Georgia is resolved." "
Of course, Russia's decision not to work together with NATO on things like heroin-trafficking is stupid, if viewed in a vacuum. You know - I mean this in the best idealist sense.
One cannot fail to see, however, that NATO is increasingly being wagged by the Georgia issue and this raises the sort of concerns that Ghosts of Alexander has already addressed. This process was visible already back at the time of the NATO Summit in Bucharest, in May. The issue of a possible Georgian MAP (Membership Action Plan) came up, and although President Bush didn't bother to visit Georgia on the eve of that Summit, contrary to which he did go to the Ukraine, the issue did seem to get enough of limelight. And Bush et al. seemed quite staunch over the issue even while Russia indicated that any NATO land transit to ease the logistics of ISAF operations would be conditional on Georgia and Ukraine not getting an MAP. Analysts like Dan Korski were writing things like "Georgia can wait, Afghanistan can't," and yet Bush went ahead on the crash course, setting up a possible showdown to take place already towards the end of this year, or at next year's anniversary NATO Summit the latest. Saakashvili might have seen a window of opportunity pop up, which he might also have seen to be closing, however.
Fast forward to the present.
Perhaps this is the right place to link to Syed Saleem Shahzad's recent article, in which he followed up on the issue of ISAF's logistics in the FATA. Some excerpts:
"The target area is being shifted to the southern port city of Karachi, where almost 90% of NATO's shipments land, including vital oil. From this teeming financial center, 80% of the goods go to Torkham in Khyber Agency on their way to the Afghan capital of Kabul. About 10% go to Chaman, then on to the northern Afghan city of Kandahar. The remaining NATO supplies arrive in Afghanistan by air and other routes.An al-Qaeda member told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, "The single strategy of severing NATO's supply lines from Pakistan is the key to success. If the blockage is successfully implemented in 2008, the Western coalition will be forced to leave Afghanistan in 2009, and if implemented next year, the exit is certain by 2010." Several al-Qaeda cells have apparently been activated in Karachi to monitor the movement of NATO supply convoys.(...)When routes in Khyber Agency came under attack this year, NATO reached an agreement with Russia for some goods to transit through Russian territory. This alternative is costly, though, given the distances involved, and can only be used in emergencies.Washington tried to get Iran to permit the passage of goods from its seaports into neighboring Afghanistan, but Tehran refused point-blank.So NATO is stuck with Pakistan as a transshipment point, along with its political instability.(...)Pakistan is the strategic backyard for NATO as well as for the Taliban and al-Qaeda."
Amazingly, it was NATO supplies day in the global media on that day, August 12, because the Financial Times looked at the issue as well.
First, here's what the FT reported about finances for Ghulab Khan, a truck driver:
"Despite the extra $2,500 (€1,648, £1,297) to be made on each load supplying the needs of Nato’s war machine in the south, he now restricts himself to less lucrative but far safer northern routes, delivering jet fuel in his rusty old Mercedes truck from Pakistan to Bagram airfield."
And then about finances for the bigger companies involved:
"According to British officials in Lashkar Gar, the capital of Helmand province, the 10 largest fuel transport groups now have to spend a combined $2m a month on protecting the 5,000 trucks they operate. Kabul is now encouraging the companies to help fund its efforts to reclaim control over the road network.The eastern provinces of Zabul and Ghazni have been particularly badly hit by attacks on bridges, with local officials saying they have lost four bridges and around 30 culverts in the past three months.
Matthew Leeming, a Kabul-based fuel trader, said it had become increasingly difficult to get convoys of essential goods through to more distant bases.
“The Taliban’s new tactics of blowing bridges between Kabul and Kandahar, forcing convoys to slow down and become softer targets, is causing severe problems to companies trying to supply Kandahar from Kabul,” he said."
The FT article includes some rather bad news about the fuel situation which was bad already during the last summer. There's even a bit in there for my long-neglected Uruzgan Series:
"On July 13, Dutch commanders in Tirin Kot, capital of Uruzgan province, were so anxious for the delivery of fuel supplies that had been delayed in Kandahar that they dispatched their own protection for a convoy of 13 trucks. Despite the deployment of coalition air and ground forces, the convoy came under attack and two tankers were destroyed."
This all is enough food for thought. Before closing off I'll just add some caveats for interpretation. The Russians, I'm sure, have not said their final word on the NATO land transit issue. That will depend on many factors - no, it's not anyone's bet: it depends on what the key players want and on just how much they want those things exactly. The other caveat is that the cross-Russian land transit option is not exactly a feasible overall alternative in place of Pakistani (or, say, Iranian) land transit.
P.S. And this all is ironic, isn't it, with that Roki-Nizhny Zaramag tunnel presenting Russian troops with a bit of a logistical headache of their own in Ossetia these days...