Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's Still a Price--and a Risk

I've noted that we have to be careful in dealing with Russia because we and NATO still have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan that use a Russian line of supply. It isn't a veto on our reaction, but it must be a factor.

I urged caution in responding to Putin's grab for Crimea until we know what we can do without Russia's supply line to our forces.

We have few enough troops that I wasn't worried about them being isolated, but I do worry about the security and cost of the alternatives. I've long been worried about our supply lines to landlocked Afghanistan, especially during the surge peak years.

Our military says we have alternatives:

Russia, locked in a standoff with the West over Ukraine, would be unable to thwart a complete or partial U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan even if it cut off access to Russian supply routes, a top U.S. general said on Wednesday. ...

"We've got resilience in the system and I'm not concerned at all about a loss of the Russian (routes in the) Northern Distribution Network," Dunford said, referring to the military's network of supply routes through Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Sure, we can do that. But how much of our already strained airlift capacity would have to be committed to that mission and for how long?

And while I don't expect Pakistan to interfere with air routes even if they are trying to extort us for land routes (which we are refusing to use because of the extortion attempt), what if they do? Russia was supposed to be an alternative to Pakistan (which worried me). Now Pakistan is the alternative to Russia? Wonderful.

Yet we can use airlift.

But what other missions go undone because of that high priority mission?

And the question isn't just getting our troops out (and those of our allies), but sustaining a continuing mission with reduced forces to bolster the fight against the Taliban in the years to come. Will we really be content to rely on air supply lines and pay the price in money and aircraft availablity for other missions?

Sure, we could probably rely on contract airlift, but there is still a money cost even if it doesn't affect our air transport availability.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.