By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Nov. 28, 2012 – The Northern Distribution Network that U.S. Transportation Command helped establish three years ago to supply U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan laid the foundations for strong U.S. partnerships in Central Asia and Russia and for the region’s long-term economic security, the Transcom commander said.
Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser III traveled through the region last month, thanking the governments for their support for the network’s multiple truck, water, rail and air routes used to transport about 40 percent of all military cargo destined for Afghanistan.
The routes have been particularly critical during the past year, Fraser noted, because the Pakistani government closed logistical routes known as the Pakistan ground lines of communication in November 2011 after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed during a border incident with U.S. troops. Pakistan announced in July that it would reopen the route, but Transcom is still working to break the logjam created by thousands of shipping containers that had been stranded for months.
Relying heavily on the Northern Distribution Network since the closure, Transcom ensured that warfighters in Afghanistan never went without the logistical support they needed, Fraser said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.
“They had the sustainment they needed because we had developed these relationships and had multiple lanes [of supply] to use,” he said.
Now, as the United States lays plans to draw down in Afghanistan, Fraser said he’s found support for strengthening those relationships and improving the processes behind the transportation network -- not just for the duration of the Afghanistan mission and redeployment, but beyond.
Recognizing that U.S. shipments will diminish over time, leaders in nations supporting the NDN see the routes established to support the war effort in Afghanistan as a path to economic progress, Fraser noted. “I think the NDN is opening up opportunities for the future that these countries can capitalize on,” he said.
Nations are working together in unprecedented ways as a result of NDN agreements and exploring ways to streamline their import and export procedures to encourage cross-border commerce.
“We are already seeing some of that,” Fraser said. “As they look forward to the future, these countries know that the military is not going to be doing things at the same level that we have been for a long time. So they are looking for ways to capitalize on what has happened as a result of the Northern Distribution Network.”
Ambassador Dennise Mathieu, Fraser’s foreign policy advisor who accompanied him on the trip, said these efforts fit into the State Department’s vision of a “New Silk Road” that offers new potential in one of the least economically integrated areas of the world.
The goal is to reconnect economies that had been torn apart by decades of war and rivalry, helping restore commercial bonds among some of the world’s fastest-growing economies that sit at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
“The idea is that you can build on the links that have already been established in an economic way,” Mathieu said.
Those efforts are bearing fruit in infrastructure improvements to support this vision, she reported. Azerbaijan is building a new port with hopes of becoming a transportation hub. Rail connections are being built between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, and a recently completed rail line runs from the Uzbek border to Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.
“Eventually, with continued cooperation, they will be able to go all the way from China into Europe,” Mathieu said. “You will have a whole new economic network, built upon the foundation of this military logistics supply network.”
By integrating economically, regional nations will have a lasting impact that supports U.S. national interests in the region, she said.
“We believe that when you have economic prosperity, then that helps bring about stability and security,” Mathieu said. “So therefore, the region is going to be more secure. You will have less conflict. It provides opportunities for people to prosper and for their children to go to school and provides the conditions to start to build a democratic base and institutions.”
“All of that is good for the United States,” she said, opening new economic markets and strengthening partnerships across the region.
“This is something that has brought people together,” Mathieu said. “It’s something that enables them to put any differences or difficulties aside so they can work together toward something that benefits everyone.”