Railway project gets on track

An ISAF press release on the work of its Railway Advisory Team.

“Afghanistan has only 75 kilometers of railway right now” is clearly referring to the Mazar-i-Sharif line, but interestingly the release says it “is currently not operational.”

The reference to Iraq doesn’t really make it clear that Iraq had a fairly well-developed railway system, and going by comments from people who went out there, Iraqi Republic Railways did not really lack skills and knowledge, instead the local railwaymen lacked access to resources and security.

Railway project gets on track

By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristopher Levasseur

International Security Assistance Force Headquarters

Kabul, Afghanistan (Dec 07, 2011) – Mining minerals and raw materials is one of the most profitable businesses in the world. Whether its coal or raw metals, it’s one industry that Afghanistan cannot afford to miss out on, but in order to do that, they need a way to transport the materials.

That is where the Railway Advisory Team comes in.

“The Railway Advisory Team is here to create a railroad authority in Afghanistan much like those found in the U.S. or Europe,” said Army Maj. Timothy Christensen, International Security Assistance Force Headquarters Afghanistan Railway Advisory Team. “We are capacity building and teaching Afghans about railroading.”

The Afghanistan Railway Authority, which is waiting for approval from the Afghanistan presidential cabinet, will be set up to monitor and regulate the railway industry in the country.

“We are teaching the Afghan people from the ground up on how to run a railway and connecting them with international industries to get that extra piece of knowledge so they can become the regulators of the railways in Afghanistan,” said Christensen.

They are here to help build the infrastructure for the Afghans and teach them about the railway industry. The next step is to help them build a national rail plan for all of Afghanistan, he said.

“Afghanistan has an amazing amount of mineral wealth in the ground, a lot of it is in coal and iron ore,” said Christensen. “Those two commodities cannot be moved economically without a railroad. In order to develop Afghanistan’s economy to its fullest potential, a railroad will be necessary.”

Afghanistan has only 75 kilometers of railway right now, which is currently not operational.

This isn’t the first time this has been done in a foreign country. According to Army Maj. Scott Meyer, ISAF Headquarters Afghanistan Railway Advisory Team, this is the same concept that was put into action in Iraq. Similar practices will be put in place in Afghanistan. Currently, the Railway Advisory Team has several Afghans working with them to learn the process.

“We will eventually begin training the Afghanistan Railway Authority personnel how to plan and operate a railway,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Stokes, ISAF Headquarters Afghanistan Railway Advisory Team. “Right now we are trying to build a training plan for the ARA.”

Christensen added that eventually, the Afghans will be able to train their fellow countrymen and continue the program. “The members we will train will become the future leaders of the ARA.”

Source: Railway project gets on track, ISAF, 7 December 2011

“A logistical game changer”

A logistical game changer

101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes

BALKH PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An ambitious railroad project could see an increase in cargo supply movements and potentially create strong economic development and stability for the northern Afghanistan community.

The 101st Sustainment Brigade Commander Col. Michael Peterman and members of his staff spent several days visiting with key government officials in the Hairaton district to discuss plans to re-establish a distribution network in the north from Europe.

Most of the ground freight in that region comes through Pakistan.

“To say that it’s problematic is an understatement,” Peterman said. “For all the interruptions, attacks, theft, corruption …it has a negative effect on combat power. It can be a game-changer logistically if we get it right.”

The Hairaton Gate crossing is the only border crossing point with a rail line, according to Peterman. The Lifeliner’s role in the project would be to tie the infrastructure in northern Afghanistan to that network, he said.

The brigade sent a team to Hairaton Gate to help build container yards for the project. Peterman referred to Gen. David Petraeus’ initiative on helping get the Northern Distribution Network – a network of trains, ports and airplanes coming directly from Central Europe into Afghanistan- run efficiently.

It would also mean the brigade would coach, mentor and teach Afghan commerce, business and military leaders on how to conduct cross-border logistics in Hairaton, he said.

“The truth is, that freight is going to come. We have to figure out how to educate the Afghans to make sure it moves efficiently down to rest of the battle space. We’ll be critical to have in terms of coaching and monitoring, along with our Afghan partners,” Peterman said.

The commander said while the focus in Regional Command East has been counterinsurgency and security (with the intent to gain a space for economics to grow), the northern region has a strong governor and security.

“We have an opportunity, with that rail line and commercial trucking, to move that portion of the country forward economically and also reinforce governance for tens of millions of dollars that’s going to come across that port in the next year that’s going to go directly to Afghan taxpayers,” he said.

Peterman said he has spent time with the Hairaton District Gov. Atta and other key officials trying to understand, “Afghanistan’s human terrain.”

“We had a great dialogue with Gov. Atta, as well as daily meetings with the port authority … to let him know what this means to him economically. He’s a very smart man, and he understands developmentally what this means to his country,” he said.

Peterman said conversations with the district sub-governor raised concerns about the negative impact the projects would have on the community, such as children being struck by trucks

“Those concerns are no different than a small town in America that’s right next to a rail hub, if you can picture it,” he said. “If we put Afghans to work, it will have less negative effects on his community,” he said.

Peterman said engagements by USAID, the European Union and others are also coming into play regarding Afghanistan’s economic future.

He also said the project fits in with President Obama’s intent of having combat troops leave Afghanistan by 2014.

“The trains are going to have to get that combat power out some way,” he said.
Source: DVIDS, 2011-01-11

Northern Distribution Network in action

Northern route eases supplies to US forces in Afghanistan at The International Institute For Strategic Studies. With a map, and a graph of container traffic.

Some interesting snippets:

  • Moving supplies via the northern rail route costs approximately 10% of the cost of movement by air.
  • NATO has also begun using the NDN. The first trial shipment of NATO cargo, consisting of 27 containers of construction materials and food supplies, departed from Riga, Latvia, in May 2010. Russia had offered transit to NATO at the Alliance’s 2008 Bucharest summit, but it was not until 2009 that NATO began negotiating transit rights with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and these talks took almost a year to complete.
  • [The Termez to Hairatan railway] has reached its handling capacity of 4,000 tonnes of cargo per month. Until upgrades are completed, this border crossing is likely to remain a choke point. Meanwhile, railway experts have questioned whether the existing rail route through Uzbekistan is capable of handling the amount of traffic envisioned by the US military and its allies.

Mazar-i-Sharif railway completed

ISAF reports that construction of the railway from the Uzbek border to the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif has been completed.

Railway Line Completed in Northern Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (Sept. 15) – A 75 kilometer rail road main line between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh province was completed recently, opening up economic progress for Afghanistan.

The $165 million project, financed by Japan and the United States, began back in May and was one of the largest construction projects in Afghan history.

The idea of building a railway connection from Termez to the capital of Balkh province was born when the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan 30 years ago. A single bridge over a border river was the only passage between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Almost half of Afghanistan’s imports pass through the border town of Hairatan with the railway expected to handle millions of tons of goods, benefit up to five million people.

Also planned are an additional 25 kilometers for side and switching yards, which are expected to be completed in November.
ISAF Joint Command – Afghanistan press release, 2010-09-15

Photos of Mazar-i-Sharif railway under construction

At last – photographs proving the railway is really happening!

They are from Isafmedia, and were taken on May 25 when Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda visited the construction works.

Railway line from Hairatan Mazar-e-Sharif Hits final stage

ADB Bahn
The new railway line from Termez to Mazar-e-Sharif will be 75 kilometres long.

ADB Atta
The Governor of Balkh Province, Atta Mohammed Noor, during his speech.

Military logistics in Afghanistan

Rerouting Logistics in Afghanistan

Recent events highlight both the possibilities and fragility of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in Afghanistan nine years after Operation Enduring Freedom began, John CK Daly writes for ISN Security Watch.

By John CK Daly for ISN Security Watch

There were a number of items on the agenda for Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s four-day visit to Washington last week, from ongoing US support for NATO’s mission in Afghanistan to the political crisis in regional neighbor Kyrgyzstan, home to a major US airbase instrumental in supporting ISAF’s campaign.

Nine years into Operation Enduring Freedom, solidifying logistical support for the ISAF Afghan mission remains an issue of some concern in Washington. If the mantra of the preceding Bush administration toward developing the post-Soviet Caspian’s energy reserves was “happiness is multiple pipelines,” then a legacy of its Afghan campaign is an implicit “happiness is multiple logistical resupply routes.” Given the massive presence of ISAF forces, the value of these logistical transportation networks will only increase with time.

The scale of the problem

The logistical scope of resupplying western forces in Afghanistan is immense. According to ISAF spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks, there are currently nearly 400 US and coalition bases in Afghanistan, ranging from the massive Bagram airbase down to camps, forward operating bases and combat outposts. According to the Pentagon, there are now 87,000 US troops in Afghanistan alongside 47,000 ISAF troops from 44 other countries. When the Obama administration surge is complete, by 2011 Afghanistan will host a total of 102,000 US troops.

Nor are these the only US personnel considerations: According to the Pentagon’s Central Command (CENTCOM), the number of contractors for the US military in Afghanistan is now 107,000. These forces are immensely costly; by the end of the 2010 fiscal year, Afghanistan will cost nearly $105 billion, which includes most of $33 billion in additional spending requested by the Obama administration and currently pending before Congress.

Logistical support

Virtually everything needed for these forces is brought into Afghanistan primarily through Pakistan. But the rising level of violence against the ‘traditional’ resupply routes through Pakistan has left the Pentagon seeking alternatives, most notably through Central Asia.

Currently, the Pentagon’s main logistical pipeline for supplying ISAF forces in Afghanistan remains Pakistan, where roughly three-quarters of supplies are shipped either through or via overflights. Ground supplies are shipped into Pakistan’s Karachi port on the Arabain Sea and offloaded onto trucks before being sent to one of five crossing points on the Afghan border, the most important being Torkham at the Khyber Pass and Baluchistan’s Chaman, both of which have been subjected to increasing militant attacks. Torkham is the shortest route for ISAF supplies to both Kabul and its adjacent Bagram Air Base, the largest US facility in Afghanistan, with about 4,000 Pakistani drivers delivering about 150 truckloads of supplies to Afghanistan each day.

The persistent vulnerability of the Pakistani logistical conduit and the attendant problems of supplying nearly a quarter of a million troops and ancillary personnel has led the Pentagon to develop options, most notably the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a railway link running from Latvia’s Riga Baltic port through Russia and Kazakhstan terminating in Uzbekistan’s Termez on the Afghan border.

The Northern Distribution Network

The NDN is a joint initiative of multiple Department of Defense agencies, including the US Transportation Command, CENTCOM, the US European Command, the Defense Logistics Agency and the Department of State.

The NDN’s first shipment was sent on 20 February 2009 from Riga 3,212 miles to Termez, with US commanders stating that 100 containers daily would be transported via the NDN, nearly two-thirds of the 140 containers shipped through the Khyber Pass each day.

While CENTCOM, the US and Russian governments maintain that the NDN is designed to transit only ‘non-lethal’ cargoes, when last year ISN Security Watch asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the NDN he replied, “It’s only one year ago that we signed an agreement with NATO as an organization for non-lethal transit, but for many years lethal transit had been operating through Russia on the basis of our bilateral agreements with France, Germany, and recently the similar agreement with Spain was signed. They can move equipment, troops.” Despite the presence of major US and Russian media representatives, Lavrov’s comment was overlooked.

As Lavrov made his comments farther east, Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced that the airport in Navoi, Uzbekistan, was being used to transport non-lethal cargo into Afghanistan via South Korea’s Korean Air, officially handling Navoi’s logistics. Two months later, shortly before a visit by President Barack Obama to Moscow, Russian authorities announced that US troops and weapons could use the country’s airspace to reach Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan as a transit hub

Given the volatility of Pakistan, Pentagon logisticians are increasingly favoring Central Asian alternatives. Shifting from the high cost of airlifting cargo, several railway projects from Uzbekistan into northern Afghanistan are now underway. On 7 May, Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhelwal, while attending a meeting of the Asian Development Bank in Tashkent, announced that Japan had pledged $1 billion for railway building in Afghanistan for a line from Balkh to western Herat province.

The scope of the Japanese commitment is immense, as according to Zakhelwal, his Ministry’s revenue in 2009 was $1.3 billion. The Japanese commitment builds on earlier Uzbek efforts to assist its southern neighbor. Uzbekistan is helping upgrade Afghanistan’s only functioning railroad, the Termez-Hairatan line, linking Afghanistan’s northern provinces with the world and extending the Termez-Hairatan line to Mazar-e-Sharif.

Dr Fred Starr, chairman of Washington’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, told ISN Security Watch, “Afghanistan is the missing link in Eurasia’s rail network and Uzbekistan has taken a lead role in filling the gap. Everyone gains from this. No one loses.”

While the western military commitment in Afghanistan has led to infrastructure projects that languished for decades, roads, airports and railways are ‘dual-use’ technologies that will assist the post-war development of Afghanistan’s economy, decimated by decades of strife. An improved Afghan road and rail infrastructure will benefit all of Central Asia as well as provide cost-effective transport alternatives to aerial shipments. For all of the Taliban’s militancy, the rail and road upgrades are a Karzai administration economic ‘hearts and minds’ incentive for improving life in the countryside that the Taliban cannot counter, only attack.

Dr John CK Daly is a non-resident Fellow at John Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, DC.
License Logo
Creative Commons – Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

Source: International Relations & Security Network, 2010-05-17

ISAF transit cargo

From the July 2009 Russian Railways e-mail newsletter, sent out on 5 August 2009.

RZD specialists took part in the interdepartmental meeting concerning the issues of transit of cargos meant for International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. An exchange of opinions on the procedure of the cargo transit to Afghanistan took place.