Logistics movements in Afghanistan face major
challenges. During the year the 17th Combat
Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) was deployed
in Afghanistan conducting convoys and escorting
supplies, the issues and requirements facing our forces
on a daily basis constantly evolved. From dealing with
host-nation trucks (HNTs) to confronting enemy activity,
our convoys bravely traversed many routes over the
rugged terrain of Afghanistan to bring vital equipment
and supplies to our fighting forces. This article will summarize
the major friction points and issues that affected
the battalion's mission across Regional Commands East,
North, and South.
Trucks and Drivers Pose Challenges
During our deployment from May 2010 to May 2011,
we completed more than 400 convoys that moved more
than 10,000 pieces of equipment. These movements
were primarily executed using military-escorted HNTs.
This in itself posed significant problems because the
poor quality and unreliability of the trucks exposed
our convoys to dangerous situations on the road. Some
movements were accomplished using palletized load
systems, but their use was restricted to transporting
munitions, palletized sensitive cargo, and 20-foot
Eight carrier companies operated under the hostnation
contract. They had varying rates of reliability, and
none was particularly distinguished in the quality of its
performance. The carriers used many local drivers, who
frequently switched between carrier companies and had
no loyalty to any one carrier. The quality of the trucks
supplied by the carriers under the host-nation contract
was deplorable in every sense of the word. The age of
the fleet and the general condition of the trucks resulted
in frequent breakdowns during missions.
The rate of breakdowns became such a problem that
the battalion instituted an internal quality assurance/quality control program for the trucks. This initially
caused a mass outcry from the carriers because 80 percent
of their trucks failed the checks performed according
to the guidelines in the performance work statement.
The missions that had to be canceled because of unsatisfactory
trucks resulted in a significant loss of revenue
for the carriers.
About a month into the program, marked improvements
could be seen in the quality of the trucks sent by
the carriers for missions. The problem was not totally
solved since trucks continued to break down. However,
breakdowns occurred at a much lower rate than before
the program was implemented and generally for reasons
that could not be pinpointed during the checks performed
by the quality assurance/quality control team.
Most of the HNT drivers had no proof of qualification
or licensure on the trucks they operated. To see teenagers
operating these trucks was quite common and left
one to question the authenticity of the carriers and their
commitment to the contract. The performance work
statement said that operators would be properly licensed
for the vehicles they operated, but I never saw an Afghan
Driving the trucks through some areas was dangerous,
and at times some drivers refused to travel certain
routes. The fear of being identified as sympathetic to
the United States and labeled as such by the Taliban,
coupled with the bribes being paid to Afghan National
Police and Afghan National Army officials at checkpoints,
contributed greatly to the unwillingness of the
drivers to travel along certain routes.
Fuel Supply Frustrates Carriers
Providing fuel for the trucks posed significant challenges.
The lack of a defined standard for supporting
HNTs across the Afghanistan combined joint area of
operations caused some forward operating bases (FOBs)
to refuse to give fuel to HNTs in convoys. The performance
work statement dictated that trucks arrive at the
point of mission origin with sufficient fuel to complete
the assigned mission.
Ninety-eight percent of the time, HNTs showed up at
the FOBs with barely enough fuel to make it through the
entry control point. The carriers argued that they provided
the drivers with money to purchase fuel and even fueled
the trucks before they left the carrier holding yards,
but this could not be verified. There was speculation that
the drivers sold the fuel in their trucks before they got to
the FOBs, knowing that the United States would provide
them fuel before they started the mission.
If an HNT has passed all the necessary quality assurance/quality control checks and was selected for a mission
but had no fuel, we supplied that truck with enough
fuel to complete the assigned mission. The carriers were
charged $15 per gallon for the fuel that we supplied to
the HNTs, which was five times more than the price paid
for fuel on the local market.
Was that a fair charge levied by the United States?
That is open for debate, but what needs to be considered
is that once a convoy was on the road, the convoy commander,
because of the threat conditions, would not stop
at local gas stations to allow the HNT drivers to refuel.
During the course of the mission moving between FOBs,
the drivers were then faced with a problem: either the
local U.S. personnel would refuse to refuel them, or, if
they did get fuel, they were charged the $15 per gallon
The price of fuel charged to the carriers needs to be
revised. The price has to be fair and equitable, taking
into consideration that sometimes the HNT drivers do
not have the option to refuel on the road. They therefore
should not be penalized by having to pay the high rate to
refuel with U.S. Government fuel.
Eagle Express Helps Convoy Management
The Eagle Express initiative was implemented in
January 2011. Its intent was to alleviate the shortfall in
transportation assets resulting from the loss of some of
the rotary-flight routes in the area of operations and to
provide customers with more reliable information about
convoy schedules and planned movements.
Under the Eagle Express initiative, the monthly schedule
for convoys dedicated to three routes, which were
identified as gold, black, and white, was sent to customers
by the 20th day of the preceding month. Customers
then had the option to track our convoy movements and
build their movement requirements around them.
The advantage of the Eagle Express was that it allowed
customers to predict when each convoy would
be at the respective FOBs. Before the Eagle Express,
our convoy movements were driven by demand: The
customer would submit its movement requests, and once
a full load was reached, the convoy was planned. With
the Eagle Express, the convoys were already planned
and the customer could submit movement requests for
The biggest disadvantage of the Eagle Express was
that convoy assets were often underused. Convoys
often went out on certain routes with only one or two
loads just to abide by the schedule. It was certainly not
economical or safe for Soldiers to traverse the dangerous
routes without having a reasonable amount of loads to
Finding Time for Maintenance
The pace at which the 17th CSSB ran convoys allowed
little, if any, time for performing proper maintenance
on vehicles. Command maintenance is a term
reserved for those units that have a strictly "on the FOB" mission. M–ATVs (MRAP [mine-resistant ambushprotected]
all-terrain vehicles), MaxxPros, palletized
load systems, wreckers, and other equipment that go out
on convoys were subjected to 48-hour and 24-hour unit
quality assurance/quality control checks, as well as a
4-hour battalion-level quality assurance/quality control
check before they left on missions. This did not take the
place of a command maintenance program, as was demonstrated
by the number of trucks being deadlined, some
temporarily, while on the road running convoys.
Attempts were made to establish a quarterly maintenance
standdown to allow each element to reset and
focus on a comprehensive maintenance service for each
vehicle. But mitigating circumstances, such as scheduling
issues, prevented the establishment of a sustained
policy on maintenance stand-downs.
Accounting for Equipment
Equipment accountability has always been a challenge.
On a few occasions during our rotation, sensitive
items were reported missing from escorted vehicles; in
a couple of cases, whole vehicles were missing. All of
the missing vehicles were eventually recovered, but the
missing sensitive items continued to be a mystery. In
response to this, the battalion convoy standard operating
procedures were amended to require that customers
remove sensitive items from vehicles before shipping.
Our local procedures were also enforced by a battalion
directive requiring all convoy commodity managers to
turn in a signed copy of the load logs, signifying that the
customers had physically signed for their equipment.
In the convoy staging yard, operations were also modified
to ensure that all HNTs were correctly assigned the
equipment's destination, heights of loads were verified
for the specific route to be followed, and the customers
had removed all sensitive items.
The 17th CSSB improved the way logistics movements
were executed across Regional Commands East,
North, and South. Over the year of our deployment,
we adopted new policies and procedures and shaped
others to better reflect the changes we faced in threats,
demands, and capabilities. Our customers continued to
have diverse and challenging requirements, but we were
able to meet and surpass them all. Our replacements assumed
an operation that had been refined and tested, and
Captain Owen A. Rose is completing the Engineer Captains Career Course. His next assignment will be at Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, in Korea. He was the transportation officer of the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion during its deployment to Afghanistan. He has an associate's degree in biomedical engineering and a bachelor's degree in construction management and is pursuing a master's degree in project management from the University of Alaska at Anchorage and in geological engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
they will only continue to make it better as they respond
to the demands of their customers.