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International Security Assistance Force Logistics Operations in Afghanistan

The CJ–4 Branch of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) International Security Assistance Force Headquarters (HQ ISAF) in Kabul, Afghanistan, experienced a major shift in focus between August 2008 and February 2009. The Chief of the CJ–4 Branch was responsible for pushing a number of initiatives forward during this period. This article will show how multinational logistics in Afghanistan is unique and has its own set of challenges.

HQ ISAF CJ–4 Branch

HQ ISAF CJ–4 is a multinational logistics organization with personnel representing 11 countries. It has three sections: logistics operations, logistics plans, and joint theater movements. The CJ–4 has 25 personnel, who ensure that—

  • Class I (subsistence) and class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants [POL]) commodities are maintained at operational levels.
  • Major theater-level projects, such as the “Afghan First” and winterization programs, are planned and executed.
  • The intratheater airlift system is efficiently moving passengers and cargo within the area of operations (AO), and the strategic air personnel are coordinating movements outside of Afghanistan.

Noticeably missing from the CJ–4 are theater-level logistics assets. This headquarters-level logistics office has no assigned NATO logistics support battalions, transportation battalions, multinational movement control battalions, or other logistics assets to conduct sustainment. This is a major challenge for the CJ–4.

The theater is divided into five regions, each assigned units from a number of troop-contributing nations who are responsible for their own logistics; however, the CJ–4 does not have the ability to move high-value or sensitive equipment and supplies across regional boundaries. The CJ–4 has established the theater movement coordination cell (TMCC) to deconflict convoy operations along the limited main supply routes (MSRs).

Theater Movement Coordination Cell

During August 2008, insurgent activity along Highway 1 between Kabul and Kandahar reached historic heights. Several bridges were destroyed, improvised explosive device (IED) strikes peaked, and rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms attacks on ISAF forces, civilian contractors, and humanitarian organizations threatened freedom of movement.

These threats prompted the commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF) to make freedom of movement his top priority. The HQ ISAF TMCC and the regional commands’ joint movement coordination cells (JMCC) were established to improve coordination, control, and confidence among ISAF forces, ISAF contractors, nongovernmental organizations, and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Working from the HQ ISAF Combined Joint Operation Center, TMCC members have emphasized the need to improve movement coordination and visibility within Afghanistan.

Movement Visibility

Movement visibility is needed for the activities of troop-contributing nations, regional commands, civilian contractors, the Joint Forces Command Brunssum, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s Consultation Command and Control Agency, ANSF, and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. TMCC is working toward having full visibility of all military, contractor, and nongovernmental organization logistics ground movements. TMCC is not, however, working on this major undertaking alone.

In December 2008, the CJ–4 staff sponsored a theater logistics conference at Kandahar Airfield. More than 50 participants, including G–4 staffs from all the regional commands, Kandahar Airfield and Kabul International Airport aerial ports of debarkation, civilian contractors, and members of the ISAF HQ CJ–4, presented logistics information relating to their AOs. The day-long workshops generated valuable input from all participants.

Attendees were split into two groups. One group was asked to identify how the anticipated expansion of U.S. forces and the support forces set to arrive in theater for the election would affect ISAF logistics. The other group, led by members of the TMCC, discussed various movement visibility topics, including the route-naming fragmentary order (FRAGO), standardized incident reporting, the ISAF Secret Movement Chat Page, various movement templates, and the implementation of regional command-level joint movement coordination centers. Several products were produced from these workshops, one of which was the draft movement visibility standardization FRAGO. The TMCC took back the suggestions and recommendations, intending to incorporate them into logistics operations.

Force Tracking

Movement visibility is difficult to achieve in Afghanistan. Some troop-contributing nations and contractors have tracking systems, such as Blue Force Tracker; however, their systems are not synchronized with each other. Other nations have convoys that move without tracking capability.

CJ–4 approached the issue of force tracking from two fronts. First, it established a common mapping tool to provide a management overview of network visibility and incident reporting. Second, it developed Integrated Command and Control, a comprehensive tool that will monitor all major routes and any incidents that may affect them. Tracking information is presented on a map overlay, giving the regional commands or TMCC users the ability to see the route network in detail. This tool will eventually be used to deconflict convoy movements; the goal is to have it form part of the convoy early warning and support system.

Once tracking systems have been developed and implemented for all military forces in theater, the next step will be to coordinate with civilian contractors to have their convoys tracked, with data moving easily into the TMCC system. By providing the ability to identify IED threats, troops in contact, road closures, and road damage, the TMCC tracking system will provide movement visibility for all military and civilian convoys moving along Afghanistan’s roads.

Standardization of Procedures

Standardization is another challenge within Afghanistan. Highway 1, which is ISAF’s primary MSR, has various names depending on the regional command through which it travels. The TMCC implemented a new road naming convention that provides direction to the regional commands on what names they can attach to their road networks. Even the term “MSR” will be revised to help identify the strategic or tactical importance of a route. MSRs will be known as theater controlled routes (TCRs), regional controlled routes (RCRs), or provincially controlled routes (PCRs). TCRs, like Highway 1, have strategic importance within the AO. RCRs have either strategic or tactical importance for the AOs where they reside. Finally, PCRs are tactical routes used and managed by task forces to conduct their operations. These changes will bring a common operational terminology to this theater.

Along with the route-naming conventions, TMCC implemented several processes to standardize reports of incidents affecting logistics operations within ISAF’s reporting system, JOC (Joint Operational Center) Watch. Civilian contractors, private security companies, and troop-contributing nations are required to use three templates: threat assessment, convoy tracking, and incident reporting, which provide the TMCC and all regional commands with up-to-date information on what is moving on the roads and incidents that could impede convoy movements. Information flows not only toward ISAF but also back to the stakeholders to provide them with real-time situational awareness.

Information Sharing

Sharing all this information is critical to COMISAF’s top priority of freedom of movement. As part of the movement visibility project, regional commands established JMCCs within their joint operational centers. The JMCC watchkeepers can view real-time movements of all convoys within their regional AOs and, in turn, provide the TMCC and all other regions with up-to-date information on their convoys via a “chat line” located on their ISAF Secret Information Technology Network. This is particularly important during cross-boundary convoy movements of high-value or sensitive equipment. Military or security force escorts from the region the convoy is leaving can accurately time their handovers with forces from the receiving region, thus minimizing their exposure to possible insurgent attacks.

Along with these initiatives and the requirement to update both doctrine and ISAF standing operating procedures, TMCC will be championing the development of a multinational movement control battalion. With so few road networks in Afghanistan, deconflicting of convoy movements by the movement control battalion is vital.

TMCC developed and formalized a “way point” system to improve situational awareness and facilitate ISAF response to incidents involving ISAF contractors, nongovernmental organizations, and ANSF convoys that do not normally use the military grid reference system. The way point system identifies known intersections, landmarks, and terrain features with a letter and number that corresponds to a military grid.

TMCC conducts monthly coordination meetings with international aid organizations, nongovernmental organizations, the Afghanistan National Police, the Afghanistan National Army, Pakistani liaison officers, civilian contractors, and personal security companies. At these meetings, TMCC provides the attendees with updates on weather, border crossing points, force escalation procedures, logistics convoy threat assessments, standardization processes, and highway security.

Operational Focus

With the establishment of the TMCC and the strategic importance of class III supplies, the CJ–4 has changed its focus from one of information gathering to operations. This new focus became apparent when the CJ–4 Branch, along with other branches of the HQ ISAF Support Division, began participating in the revised commander update assessment briefings. Since October 2008, CJ–4 has briefed COMISAF and his staff on the status of the TCRs, including insurgent attacks that have affected routes, weather conditions limiting access, bridge bypass conditions, and theater fuel supplies based on the days of supply (DOS). Throughput challenges at border crossing points are briefed when required. Finally, various ongoing operations, such as the convoy movements of humanitarian support, the Bala Morghab Bridge operation, and the poppy eradication force, are briefed regularly.

Bala Morghab Bridge Operation

In cooperation with the Combined Joint Engineers Branch, CJ–4 was the lead for the Bala Morghab Bridge operation. Following the June 2008 Joint Assessment and Concept of Operations for Enhanced Security in Ghowrmach District, COMISAF approved the emplacement of a Mabey & Johnson Military Logistic Bridge, which would improve freedom of movement along Highway 1 in Regional Command West. The purpose of this strategic operation was to reconnect Highway 1 using a bridge with a maximum load capacity of at least 60 tons within Badghis Province.

To accomplish this major undertaking, ISAF had to work with tribal elders and civilian contractors. Transportation of the mission-critical equipment from Camp Invicta in Kabul to Bala Morghab, Badghis Province, was provided by Alpha Logistics, a local Afghan company. On 11 October 2008, the bridge convoy departed from Kabul. The convoy, consisting of 25 contracted drivers and private security officers, drove 811 kilometers (38 hours) from Kabul to Badghis Province. They transported 75 metric tons using 10 trucks holding 20-foot containers, 2 flatbed trucks, 1 spare truck, and 3 security vehicles. The last 80 kilometers, between Ghowrmach and Bala Morghab, proved to be the most treacherous. The contracted drivers refused to continue forward from the Ghowrmach District staging area after visiting a local bazaar and receiving death threats from insurgents. After backtracking to their previous staging area in Meymaneh, the contracted drivers had to be replaced. It took several days to hire new drivers, transport them to the staging area, work out issues with tribal elders, and drive the remaining distance to Bala Morghab.

Afghanistan’s tribal heartlands are administered by a traditional system where elders—respected community leaders—resolve disputes and make decisions by forming a “shura,” an Islamic community consultation meeting. Several shuras were held to facilitate the movement of this civilian-contracted convoy transporting bridge parts through areas managed by these tribal elders.

During the Bala Morghab Bridge operation, CJ–4, TMCC, and the logistics operations section had to resolve many diverse challenges and provide the HQ ISAF senior leaders with situational awareness and recommended courses of action. Several lessons were learned, with the most significant being command and control: CJ–4 does not have the personnel or theater-level assets to command such an operation and must work in cooperation with all the enablers that the HQ ISAF Combined Joint Operation Center representatives provide.

Class III

Everyone who has conducted logistics operations in Afghanistan is familiar with the term “jingle truck.” Jingle trucks are the colorfully decorated trucks used throughout Afghanistan to transport fuel and other supplies within the ISAF AO. “Jingle” refers to the sound of the movement of chains, which are affixed along the bottom of the vehicles. Jingle truck drivers form part of the host nation transportation system. One contractor providing this support saw a 44-percent increase in insurgent attacks against its convoys in 2008. As of the end of November 2008, 202 attacks against this contractor’s convoys resulted in 100 of its personnel being killed and 230,000 liters (1 DOS) of fuel destroyed.

The CJ–4 logistics operations section monitors class III status daily to ensure that fuel is available to meet mission requirements. Within the logistics operations section, the fuels section ensures that the fuel DOS are kept at the proper levels, especially with attacks on fuel convoys occurring regularly on Highway 1 between Kabul and Kandahar. To provide better visibility to all regional commands, the fuels section places timely class III data on the ISAF webpage, providing POL asset visibility. The fuels section has taken on the additional task of monitoring throughput and capacity at border crossing points, especially those bordering Pakistan.

Intratheater Airlift System

Movement visibility and ground transportation challenges are not the only ones faced by the CJ–4 Branch. Because of Afghanistan’s poor infrastructure and lack of resources, logistics support within ISAF depends heavily on strategic and tactical airlift.

The intratheater airlift system (ITAS) is a section within the joint theater movements staff that validates and schedules ISAF airlift in support of the COMISAF’s priorities. The ITAS staff balances efficiency and effectiveness through close coordination with troop-contributing nations and the airfield’s combined air terminal operations. Every effort is made to plan and execute missions with minimal disruption by external factors and to promote higher levels of confidence in the ISAF airlift system.

Using 14 transport planes from 5 contributing nations in 2008, ITAS moved a staggering amount of passengers and cargo. In 2007, with similar assets as in 2008, ITAS moved an average of one-half of a ton of cargo and 6,500 passengers per month. In 2008, the average jumped to three-fourths of a ton of cargo and 9,000 passengers, an increase of 50 percent and 39 percent, respectively, after ITAS added 50 more flight hours. The increase in efficiency and greater efforts by the ITAS section are directly attributable to this surge in airlift capabilities.

The security mission in landlocked Afghanistan represents the most difficult operational challenge ever faced by NATO logisticians. The chief of CJ–4 and her multinational staff worked diligently to overcome many of these challenges. One of the main challenges that the CJ–4 faced was educating newly-arrived HQ ISAF and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan staffs on the idiosyncrasies of logistics operational support in this theater. Simply put, logistics support in Afghanistan cannot be compared to that in Iraq or to former NATO missions in Bosnia or Kosovo; it is completely different.

With 41 troop-contributing nations—each with its own national logistics chain—spread over 5 regions and with the U.S. expansion forces arriving in theater, the logistics challenges faced by the CJ–4 will only increase in the future. Troop-contributing nations, regional commands, and branches of HQ ISAF must understand that logistics is a collective responsibility that requires information flow, coordination, and deconfliction. Information sharing will be achieved through continuous joint operational planning groups, video teleconferences, and staff-assistance visits throughout the regions and to higher headquarters. With the support of troop-contributing nations and contractors, force-tracking systems interfacing with TMCC will provide the visibility that the COMISAF needs in order to ensure freedom of movement in Afghanistan.

Colonel Shelia J-McClaney was the International Security Assistance Force Headquarters (ISAF HQ) CJ–4 from August 2008 to February 2009. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Albany State College, a master’s degree in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. She is a graduate of the Army Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jenny Newton, Canadian Forces, is enrolled in the Master of Arts-Security and Defence Management and Policy Program at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. She was the chief projects officer in the CJ–4 Branch, ISAF HQ, when this article was written.

Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. LeVien is assigned to NATO’s Joint Forces Command Brunnsum as the ISAF fuels officer and served as the chief of the ISAF HQ CJ–4 theater movement coordination cell in Kabul, Afghanistan. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from La Salle University and a master’s degree in international relations from Webster University. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, the NATO Staff Officer Course, the Joint Forces Staff College, and the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy.

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