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45th Sustainment Brigade: Supply Distribution in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is not Iraq. Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan should not try to impose what they learned and experienced in Iraq in Afghanistan. That is a common misconception among most new officers and noncommissioned officers arriving in the theater. Most have not deployed to Afghanistan before and use Iraq as a model for how Afghanistan operations should run. But Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. The terrain and climate in Afghanistan make it one of the most logistically challenging environments in the world. And everything moves much slower in Afghanistan, so everyone deployed there must be patient.

Theater Organization

Until recently, Afghanistan was divided into four regional commands: East, North, South, and West. [Regional Command South-West was carved out of Regional Command South in June.] Currently, a significant number of service members and coalition forces operate in the Combined Joint Operations Area (CJOA).

The CJOA has one sustainment brigade, with the 45th Sustainment Brigade assuming responsibility from the 101st Sustainment Brigade on 7 February 2009 and transferring authority to the 82d Sustainment Brigade on 31 December 2009. The sustainment brigade is an aggregate of different units that include special troops, finance, human resources, rigger, and mortuary affairs collection point units.

Three combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs) were spread throughout Afghanistan, with each providing area support to its customers. On average, each CSSB has two truck companies and an inland cargo transfer company to provide cargo transfer capabilities at the central receiving and shipping points; reception, staging, and onward integration yards; and airfields.

Task force base support battalions provide direct support to the units within their brigades and any attached coalition forces. The 45th Sustainment Brigade supported hundreds of forward operating bases (FOBs) and combat outposts (COPs) throughout the theater.

Terrain and Weather

The terrain of Afghanistan is a challenge to military operations. Iraq is, for the most part, a flat country compared to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Regional Command East and portions of Regional Command West are mountainous, with elevations reaching 12,000 feet above sea level. Kabul, the capital, is at 5,900 feet and is set in a bowl surrounded by much higher mountains. Many of the FOBs and COPs in Regional Command East are in austere and mountainous locations and cannot be resupplied by ground for many months of the year because of bad weather. Ground movement to these locations is tenuous and slow at best.

The weather and terrain must be considered in all phases of operations, from tactical movements to simple logistics resupply. Winter in Afghanistan adversely affects logistics for at least 5 months, from the beginning of November into March. Many of the smaller locations of U.S. forces depend on containerized delivery system (CDS) and low-cost low-altitude (LCLA) airdrops or slingloads for resupply. Throughout the summer, at least 15 COPs are resupplied by air, and this number more than doubles during the winter as the heavy snows close the mountain passes leading to them.

In the spring, the snow melts and runoff creates the potential for flash floods in valleys and low-lying areas. Floods deposit water and mud on roadways and wash out bridges, leaving COPs isolated from ground resupply.

By contrast, much of Regional Command South and portions of Regional Command West are flat desert and the ground is covered with “moon dust.” Dust storms are common, and the heat is intense. The heat in Helmand province in Regional Command South hovers around 90 to 120 degrees for much of the year. This heat adversely affects all logistics, from the airlift capabilities of rotary- and fixed-wing air transport to refrigerated units and generators. The shelf life of water and fuel bags lying uncovered on the desert floor is drastically reduced in summer heat. Personnel suffer through the temperatures while riding in mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, working in their tactical operations centers, and sleeping in tents or wooden structures while air-conditioning units struggle to keep them cool.

Ground Movement and Resupply

The road system in Afghanistan is almost nonexistent in comparison to Iraq. Most roads are unimproved and pothole-marked. Many of these roads are not wide enough for two vehicles to pass at a time, and vehicles must travel extremely slowly as they wind through mountainous terrain.

The priority of trucking is “Afghan First.” The 45th Sustainment Brigade used host-nation trucks for 90 percent of its supply movements. The brigade’s movement control battalion oversaw an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract that provides for movement of dry cargo and fuel across the CJOA. The contract currently employs eight host-nation trucking companies and will be revised to include more companies, which will increase responsiveness and competition in supporting U.S. forces.

Under the IDIQ contract, Afghan truckers deliver supplies at a much slower pace than U.S. Soldiers experienced in Iraq. The majority of the IDIQ trucks do not have in-transit visibility, and determining the locations of these trucks is difficult at best.

The local-national truckdrivers also do not work during many Muslim holidays. Ramadan and Eid al-Adha are prime examples of holidays that affect transit times for host-nation trucks. Most truckdrivers did not drive for an average of 6 days during Eid al-Adha in 2009. Planners and support operations officers must consider these movement stoppages during their logistics planning. They should plan accordingly and order trucks and supplies weeks in advance to ensure that they arrive at their final destinations before holiday periods.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and supplies and equipment arrive in the CJOA from two separate ground directions. The majority of supplies and equipment arrive at the Port of Karachi, Pakistan, and are then shipped up the Pakistan ground line of communication (GLOC) through two border crossings into Afghanistan. U.S. personnel are not authorized to work at the Port of Karachi or anywhere along the Pakistan GLOC. The enemy threat in Pakistan also affects both the timeline and arrival of supplies. Sensitive items and oversized equipment are not authorized on the GLOC because of security concerns and height restrictions on bridges.

Supplies also are transported through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). These supplies are shipped from the countries north of Afghanistan. No military items or equipment are transported on the NDN; the majority of items moved on this route are class IV (construction and barriers materials) containers and fuel.

In Afghanistan, units must properly forecast and order items and supplies in a timely manner. The average time for items to arrive at the Port of Karachi from the United States via ocean movement is approximately 2 months. The supplies then take an additional 21 days to move from the port to the main hubs in the CJOA.

The timely forecasting of supplies and equipment is crucial. If an item is not on hand at a supply support activity, the chances are slim that it will arrive when required unless it is flown into country.

The complex nature of logistics in Afghanistan is extremely challenging because of its landlocked location, mountainous terrain, weather, and the continuous military threat. Our heavy dependence on host-nation trucking requires early forecasting, planning, and patience.

Sustaining Soldiers throughout the CJOA requires an approach that is different from the sustainment methods used in Iraq. This approach must be adaptive and multimodal to solve challenges and keep the warfighters supplied.

Major Benjamin K. “Kerry” Dennard is the support operations officer for the 524th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. He served as the general supply officer in the Joint Logistics Command during the 45th Sustainment Brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan. He holds a B.S. degree in political science from Georgia College and State University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.

Major Christine A. Haffey is the support operations officer for the 45th Sustainment Brigade. In Afghanistan, she served as the deputy support operations officer in the Joint Logistics Command. She holds a B.A. degree in elementary education from Pacific Lutheran University and a master of managerial logistics degree from North Dakota State University. She is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Combined Arms and Services Staff School.

Major Donald R. “Ray” Ferguson is the brigade operations officer, J−3, of the 45th Sustainment Brigade. He holds a B.B.A. degree in logistics/intermodal transportation from Georgia Southern University and an M.B.A. degree with a concentration in logistics from Touro University. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Intermediate Level Education.

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