MTMC Surface Shipments Sustain Troops in Afghanistan 

by Major David Cintron

    Supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan and surrounding countries in Central Asia requires surface transportation movements by train and truck across thousands of kilometers of some of the most forbidding territory in the world. Some shipments, after traveling by ocean carrier to Bremerhaven, Germany, journey by railcar to Uzbekistan. Other shipments arrive at Pakistani ports and move by truck to U.S. troop destinations in the region. Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) transportation planners find that the movements are complicated by time zones, foreign languages, rugged terrain, and howling blizzards.

    After MTMC surface shipments reach Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, the 164th Transportation Contract Supervision Detachment—a Third Army element—contracts private trucks to distribute the supplies to U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. The sustainment supplies are shipped primarily to the Afghan cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Bagram, and, occasionally, Kandahar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    The surface shipments originally started as a means of relieving pressure on the overburdened aircraft. Using civilian trucks has freed the aircraft to move high- priority, sensitive, and perishable cargo. Working with the 507th Logistics Task Force at Karshi-Khanabad, the 164th orders vehicles, coordinates passes, documents cargo, escorts trucks, and assists customers.

    Surface transportation in Afghanistan began in December 2001 with contract trucks moving sustainment supplies from Karshi-Khanabad to Mazar-e-Sharif. The 164th contracted for local 20-ton Super Kamas trucks to make these shipments because of the trucks' size and capacity.

    The transporters did not encounter obstacles such as poor road surface conditions or bridge limitations between Karshi-Khanabad and Mazar-e-Sharif. However, the route climbs in places to an elevation of 6,000 feet, and snowdrifts sometimes blocked tunnel entrances and drifted over roads. Even so, the weather delayed only three movements. The team managed 38 separate supply movements to Mazar-e-Sharif in the first month.

 
Dangerous, narrow bridges test the driving skills of the truck drivers. Dangerous, narrow bridges test the driving skills of the truck drivers. At the right, trucks detour around a destroyed bridge. Dangerous, narrow bridges test the driving skills of the truck drivers. At the right, trucks detour around a destroyed bridge.
Dangerous, narrow bridges test the driving skills of the truck drivers. At the right, trucks detour around a destroyed bridge.

 
MTMC cargo moves are challenged by destroyed or antiquated roads and bridges.MTMC cargo moves are challenged by destroyed or antiquated roads and bridges.MTMC cargo moves are challenged by destroyed or antiquated roads and bridges.MTMC cargo moves are challenged by destroyed or antiquated roads and bridges.

MTMC cargo moves are challenged by destroyed or antiquated roads and bridges.

 
Heavy snows impede surface transportation high in the mountains.Heavy snows impede surface transportation high in the mountains.A pallet of supplies is removed from a contract truck.
Heavy snows impede surface transportation high in the mountains. At right, a pallet of supplies is removed from a contract truck.

While contractors trucked sustainment supplies to Mazar-e-Sharif, the 164th began planning for surface shipments to Bagram. Although shipments already were moving on the first 400 kilometers of highway, the last 450 kilometers proved to be the challenge.

After checking the tunnels, bridges, road conditions, threat, and weather throughout the second portion of the route, the transporters found that limited bridge capacity made it impossible to use large, heavy trucks to perform the mission. They decided to use 10-ton Kamas trucks that are readily available in the region.

Two trucks made the first run to Bagram, a trip that turned out better than expected. Reaching Bagram in 40 hours, the convoy had no problems crossing the Friendship Bridge that crosses from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan and managed to stay one step ahead of a blizzard. With the success of the first convoy, the transporters sent a second convoy of 10 trucks. As of mid-April 2002, the team had sent 600 contracted trucks to Bagram carrying approximately 4,200 short tons of cargo. Some of the obstacles transporters have encountered along the way include delayed bridge crossings, avalanches, blizzards, flooded tunnels, one-way traffic alternating daily, and administrative delays.

Expanding the supply chain to Kandahar has been the most difficult to arrange because of the distance from Karshi-Khanabad (1,500 kilometers) and the road conditions. The only successful route entails a 12-day transit over the Salang Pass, through Kabul, and into Kandahar.

Surface shipments in Central Asia have been successful because of the dedication of the 164th Transportation Contract Supervision Detachment soldiers, who ensure that trucks are on time with proper documentation.  ALOG

    Major David Cintron is the team chief of the 164th Transportation Contract Supervision Detachment, Third U.S. Army, in Uzbekistan. He has an M.S. degree in management from Troy State University and is a graduate of the Army Logistics Management College's Logistics Executive Development Course and the Army Command and General Staff College.