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Transportation Challenges in Afghanistan

The mission of 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, New York, in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom IV was to deny sanctuary to and destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan. Transporters of the 10th Forward Support Battalion (FSB) were charged with using all available means to provide, as quickly as possible, the supplies the warfighters needed to sustain their mission. This was a challenging mission.

Because Afghanistan has been at war for over 20 years, its economy has been extremely deprived, hindering the development and maintenance of its transportation network. Slightly smaller than Texas, Afghanistan has a road network of only 21,000 kilometers, 18,207 kilometers of which are unpaved (compared to approximately 123,000 kilometers of state-maintained roads in Texas). The poor highway system, coupled with the rugged Hindu Kush mountains, makes surface traffic a transportation challenge that significantly affects mission accomplishment.

Operational Overview

During Operation Enduring Freedom IV, Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan hosted three transportation elements. The first element, the transportation cell from the 10th FSB Tactical Operations Center, consisted of a transportation lieutenant; two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) with military occupational specialty (MOS) 88N, transportation management coordinator; and two enlisted soldiers with MOS 88M, truck driver. The 88Ns were organic to the 10th FSB, and the 88Ms were attachments from D Company, 710th Main Support Battalion (MSB). Together, they coordinated inbound and outbound surface movements.

The second element, the central receiving point (CRP), was part of the FSB. The CRP had six stake-and-platform (S&P) trucks and three family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV) trucks that were operated by 18 88M truck drivers who were attached from D Company, 710th MSB. A first lieutenant and a staff sergeant led the CRP detachment. This slice element was necessary because the FSB did not have an organic truck platoon. The CRP’s primary mission was to receive Air Force 463L and DHL pallets of materiel and deliver them to destinations at Kandahar Airfield such as the ammunition supply point, the class I (subsistence) facility, or the multiclass warehouse. (DHL is a commercial shipper that delivers high-priority items, mail, and fresh fruits and vegetables to Afghanistan.)

The third element was the movement control team (MCT). It consisted of a container management team, a rough-terrain container handler (RTCH) team, a team of load planners, and an air movement team, all of which were subordinate to the 330th Transportation Battalion based at Bagram Airfield. The MCT’s mission included joint movement center (JMC) request prioritization and container management. A JMC request is the document used by the joint movement center to prioritize, track, and ensure proper planning of cargo requirements. Since the MCT worked closely with the Air Force, it was collocated with the arrival and departure airfield control group.

All three of these transportation elements worked closely at Kandahar Airfield. Because of force protection concerns, Army transporters had few, if any, missions with their own assets outside the Kandahar Airfield perimeter. Afghanistan is still too dangerous a place for supplies to be moved by military ground vehicles. The Army did not use its own vehicles to deliver supplies because adequate military police support was unavailable and inadequate force protection would put soldiers in unnecessary danger and the delivery of supplies at risk. Therefore, local drivers delivered supplies to the forward operating bases (FOBs).

Tactical Deliveries

Surface transportation missions on Kandahar Airfield were limited. The Air Force offloaded the airplanes carrying supplies and brought the cargo to the central receiving point. Then the CRP delivered the cargo to a variety of locations at the airfield. Most items, except for ammunition and fresh food, were delivered to the multiclass warehouse by S&P trucks.

Doctrinally, this was not a typical CRP mission. The CRP should have been the breakdown point, but Kandahar Airfield did not have the space or personnel to break down all the pallets. Normally, cargo brought to the CRP would have been broken down and the customers would have picked up their supplies. However, Kandahar Airfield was designed primarily for passenger transport, not cargo, so all supplies that arrived by air and surface were delivered directly to the customer instead of to the CRP.

FMTV trucks frequently were used to carry humani- tarian aid and medical supplies. Frequently an FMTV truck with a ring mount for a .50-caliber machinegun served as a gun truck on civil affairs missions. Soldiers from the medical, civil affairs, psychological operations, and military police companies and a Romanian infantry guard force traveled to neighboring villages to provide humanitarian aid and medical assistance and to deliver food and blankets.

Providing humanitarian aid was secondary to supporting combat operations. If supplies could not get to the warfighter by rotary- or fixed-wing aircraft, the CRP had to be ready to deliver the supplies wherever they were needed.

“ Jingle Truck” Deliveries

Since the CRP did not push supplies forward, the military contracted for host nation delivery trucks, known as “jingle trucks” because of the decorative metal tassels hanging from the bottom of the truck frames that jingled when the trucks moved. The FSB contracted these trucks through two Afghan Government officials. The NCO responsible for these contracts was known as the “jingle man.” The contract price was based on the destination and the type of truck used. Fuel tankers and trucks that could carry 20- and 40-foot containers were available. Although serviceable, these trucks would not pass standard U.S. specifications.

Units needing supplies to be pushed to them at outlying FOBs sent requests to the FSB. The FSB, in turn, negotiated delivery contracts with Afghan Government officials. The units were responsible for loading the trucks and guarding the drivers while they were on Kandahar Airfield. They also provided an inventory of all the supplies that were to be transported in each truck. A memorandum with a copy of the inventory attached to it was given to the driver so the truck would be allowed to enter the FOB. This gave personnel at the FOB an accurate inventory of the contents of inbound trucks so they could monitor pilferage.

Since reliable in-transit visibility was not available in Afghanistan, FSB personnel and Afghan Government officials needed a receipt to verify that the supplies were delivered to the proper FOB. When the customer at the FOB received the supplies, he signed the driver’s memorandum and returned it to him. The delivery charge was added to the invoice only after the driver returned with the signed memorandum. The Government officials were paid monthly for all completed missions. The transportation cell NCO in charge (the “jingle man”) pushed an average of 90 trucks a month to the various FOBs.

Inbound Shipments

Another FSB mission was inbound surface movement, which was managed by two enlisted soldiers. Inbound trucks were brought to Kandahar Airfield every morning by the transportation cell and inspected by a Romanian guard force of 10 infantrymen. Military police dogs searched the trucks for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). If the dogs did not detect any IEDs, the Romanians searched the trucks and drivers for contraband. The RTCH team, which consisted of the RTCH operator, an NCO, and two ground guides, was also present during this process. When two 20-foot containers were loaded on a truck, they were positioned with their doors facing one another. The RTCH operator would move one container to permit the transportation cell to check the seals applied by the shipper. If the seals were not visible, the RTCH operator would turn the container so the transportation cell could verify that the correct seal was on that container.

Strategic Logistics

When determining delivery priority under current Army practice, delivery to a combat zone always takes precedence over delivery to a nondeployed unit in the continental United States, and a deadlined pacing item (mission-essential piece of equipment) takes precedence over zero-balance replenishment items (parts that are not currently in stock). The priority of the part determines the mode of transportation. A critically required repair part can be ordered and shipped by a contracted commercial carrier such as DHL. In Afghanistan, most class IX (repair parts) was received from the United States. Class IX deliveries were prioritized based on the mission. Parts were normally consolidated in containers at one of several stateside depots. Most repair parts were sent by air to Kandahar Airfield via Germany. Low-priority parts may have been shipped by sea to the port of Karachi in Pakistan. However, most class IX was flown into theater. The priority of an item determined whether it was shipped by military or commercial air. Military air was slower because of the bottleneck that occured at the transfer point at Manas Airfield in Kyrgyzstan. Military aircraft flew to Manas, but fewer connecting flights departed to Kandahar, which created a chokepoint that generated a backlog. To address this problem, the FSB transportation cell prioritized flights out of Manas by submitting JMC requests for needed parts through the MCT.

Class I (subsistence) was distributed primarily from the prime vendor based in Bahrain. Most class I was shipped through the Arabian Sea in 20-foot containers. After it was disembarked at the port of Karachi, it was stored in a holding area according to purchase order number. (A purchase order could consist of 2 to 15 containers.) The port shipped the class I by purchase order when supplies were called forward. Pushing items by purchase order caused problems when only one item or container was needed and the entire purchase order was shipped. The class I yard at Kandahar Airfield had limited space, which reduced its capacity for containers, so holding excess containers strained an already austere capability.
The port became a holding area. However, problems with in-transit visibility and insufficient jingle trucks to move supplies created a bottleneck at the port, which caused a backlog of containers. Frozen food storage was another problem. The refrigerated containers (reefers) required power to keep the food at a subfreezing temperature for the journey to Kandahar Airfield. Yet few generator sets (“gensets”) were available to provide power, and prime power needed to operate the reefers at Kandahar Airfield was limited. As a result, if a reefer arrived at the airfield without a source of power (either prime power or generator power), the class I staff had to keep the genset used to power it during shipment. This slowed down the transportation process and added to the backlog at the port. These problems will be alleviated with the new cold storage facility that was built in 2004 and with increased prime power. Fresh fruits and vegetables were shipped twice weekly by commercial air.

Class IIIB (bulk petroleum) was pushed from refineries near Karachi. It was transported to Kandahar Airfield in 10,000-gallon jingle fuel tankers. The biggest concern with fuel delivery was force protection. Fuel trucks make good targets for terrorists. However, an extensive inspection of fuel trucks entering the airfield reduced the IED risks.


The FSB encountered several difficulties at the tactical level. For instance, in-transit visibility of trucks en route from Kandahar Airfield to the various outlying FOBs was limited, and the time it took to get to the different FOBs varied. The FSB had no way of knowing if the truck arrived until it had returned to Kandahar, which could be up to 2 weeks later. The jingle trucks also had no license plates, so they were hard to differentiate. If a truck was attacked, there was a report stating that a jingle truck had been attacked, which was vague since all trucks in Afghanistan are referred to as jingle trucks. After the report came in, it took time to figure out which truck was hit, which FOB it was supplying, and what emergency resupply actions were required. This had a significant impact on the reliability of supply deliveries.

Because of the lack of in-transit visibility and the inherent dangers of a combat zone, the terms of U.S. military contracts with the Government officials were usually generous. The contracts often made it difficult to enforce the timely arrival of supplies. For example, by contract, a driver may have had 4 days to deliver supplies to a designated FOB, when the trip took only 7 hours. This time difference was a buffer in anticipation of possible problems, such as maintenance troubles and attacks by anticoalition militias along the way.

Another problem was pushing fuel forward. In Afghanistan, there was no standard method or equipment for cleaning fuel tankers properly. When a tanker truck was requested, there was no guarantee that it could carry fuel without contaminating it. Fuel transported in the vehicles was often too dirty to be used at the forward bases. As a result, aviation-grade fuel had to be slingloaded to the FOBs.

During the 10th Mountain Division’s deployment, the transportation cell, the CRP, and the MCT quickly adapted to the constraints imposed by long supply lines over difficult terrain. This flexibility was evident in the judicious use of host nation vehicles, attention to safety details, and the optimization of on-hand organic assets. Therefore, critical supplies were delivered in a timely manner, both to the forces at Kandahar Airfield and at the outlying FOBs. This, in turn, proved crucial to the success of the mission to support Operation Enduring Freedom IV ALOG

First Lieutenant Mary K. Blanchfield is the Assistant S–3 for the 10th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) at Fort Drum, New York. She was the Movement Control Officer for the 10th FSB in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when she wrote this article. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stetson University in Florida and is a graduate of Officer Candidate School and the Transportation Officer Basic Course.