WASHINGTON: Army logisticians are facing a time crunch to get equipment into Afghanistan before Soldiers arrive, due to only two major roads leading into the country from the nearest seaport in Karachi, Pakistan.
Lt. Gen. Mitchell H. Stevenson, the Army’s deputy chief staff for G-4, discussed current supply and delivery challenges facing the Army as he spoke Tuesday with Soldiers and civilian employees at the Pentagon as part of an Army Leader Forum.
“Now, with Iraq coming down, the buildup is going on in Afghanistan and we’re doing that in a very tough area to operate,” Stevenson said. In about a year, the number of Soldiers in Afghanistan will have gone from about 30,000 to 100,000, he said.
It takes five to nine days for supplies to reach Afghanistan via road from the port in Karachi, Stevenson said. These routes are further complicated by limited border crossings and the usual threats faced by overland convoys, he added.
The Army is also flying supplies into Afghanistan via strategic airfields, Stevenson said.
“The airfield in Kandahar has a little over 5,000 takeoffs and landings every month. That’s more than London Gatwick has,” Stevenson said.
With these airfields reaching capacity, the Army is working to build more and develop new ways to airdrop supplies to Soldiers on the ground, Stevenson said. He explained that the Logistics Innovation Agency has developed new parachutes that are low-cost, one-time-use chutes that allow supplies to be dropped.
“In the year of 2009, over a million pounds of supplies have been delivered in this way,” Stevenson said.
Army logisticians are also facing another time crunch in Iraq, the G-4 said. They need to remove seven years worth of equipment that has accumulated there.
This is the largest drawdown since Vietnam, Stevenson said. More than 40,000 vehicles need to be removed and $3 billion worth of equipment.
“We are ahead of the schedule we set for ourselves,” he said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is the hard part has not started yet.”
The major part of the drawdown has yet to occur in Iraq and that is dependent on how well the Iraqis are able to transition from their last election, Stevenson said. The United States has invested too much treasure and too many lives not to withdraw in a responsible manner, he said.
The general then went on to detail the massive humanitarian effort the Army conducted in Haiti.
“It [Haiti] has one major port at Port Au Prince and it literally… went underwater,” said Stevenson.
With the port destroyed, logistics personnel had to find new ways to offload the desperately need supplies to help the Haitian people.
“Because we had no ports, we did something we very rarely get to do and that is this logistics-over-the-shore business, ” said Stevenson.
Describing it as, “just like you see in the movies,” Stevenson explained how Soldiers brought landing craft up to the shore, dropped the ramp and drove trucks loaded with supplies onto the island.
Thirty days after the Army and Navy came in and set up temporary barges to service the port, there was more cargo going through it than before the earthquake, Stevenson said.
Just before wrapping up, the general left the audience with some statistics about the hard work that Army logisticians do every year. He said they reset 13,000 vehicles, which is enough to fix every student’s car at Georgetown University.
They also reset 400 aircraft per year. That is enough to outfit the United Parcel Service, Stevenson said.
They reset 140,000 weapons each year, he said, adding that is enough to arm all the police departments in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia four times a year.