Militants operating in and around the Pakistani tribal region of Khyber Agency have repeatedly hijacked supply vehicles entering Afghanistan. Earlier this month, gunmen torched more than 160 vehicles near the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, the biggest assault yet on the vital military supply line. Last March, dozens of oil tankers were attacked in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. If the Pakistani supply routes are severed, Washington’s options are not good.
Relying on providing enough supplies through the air using planes off of aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean is not realistic. That is true even with the current troop levels in Afghanistan, much less with the 20,000 to 30,000 additional forces earmarked for deployment in 2009.
The most convenient and sufficient alternate route would be through Iran, which has linguistic, geographic and historical ties to Afghanistan. Although the interests of Tehran and Washington have occasionally overlapped, most recently when Iran quietly supported America’s effort to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan, ongoing U.S. efforts to isolate Iran make that option infeasible.
If that situation were to change, Washington would have to be willing to negotiate with Tehran on a wide range of issues, including making concessions regarding Iran’s future influence in Iraq.
Another option would be a “northern corridor” through Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. All of those governments have indicated some willingness to cooperate. The Central Asia alternative, though, requires at least quiet support from Russia. None of these nations want to risk Moscow’s wrath by unilaterally collaborating with the United States.