NATO’s Europe to Afghanistan rail plan under discussion

NATO is “Making progress on Afghanistan rail route”, according to a Eurasia Insight report dated May 5. It seems NATO is hoping to move freight between Europe and Afghanistan via the rail connection from Uzbekistan to Hayratan, across the Friendship Bridge.

NATO is striving to rapidly conclude a deal with Central Asian states on an inter-continental rail link that would ease the supply of non-lethal equipment and assistance for both military and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan.

The rail project is an outgrowth of NATO’s efforts to reinvigorate its Afghan operations. Discussions on how to improve Afghan reconstruction efforts featured prominently at the alliance’s early April summit in Bucharest. [see previous posting] …

At present, the cost of supplying NATO operations in Afghanistan is astronomical, due mainly to the fact that most supplies must be brought in by air. According to NATO estimates, airlifting supplies to Afghanistan costs a whopping $14,000 per ton, or roughly $7 per pound. In addition to the high cost, the air option may not be able to handle the requirements necessitated by an expansion of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

A Europe-Afghan rail link could cut supply costs to roughly $300-$500 per ton, allowing the bloc to both save tremendously on transportation and increase supply for its Afghanistan operations. The optimal route envisioned at this time would traverse Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. By all appearances, NATO has secured approval in principle from all the potential transit states.

… no new railroads are expected to be built at this point; the route will follow existing Soviet-era high-capacity tracks. … NATO indicated that if route proves reliable and efficient, the alliance will seek the permission of transit states to allow military equipment to travel over the railway. This option would necessitate closer cooperation between NATO and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which several transit states are members.

The full article has a lot of background to the political implications of allowing such traffic through the surrounding countries.

Other than the Europe-Afghan railway, there would seem to be no other viable options for the overland supply of Afghan reconstruction efforts.

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