If countries were rated on how tough it is to fight wars on their soil, Afghanistan would come close to the top of the list.
Landlocked, with an extreme climate and paralyzing dust storms, it’s also bordered by dizzying mountains and safe highways are sparse.
That’s why escalating militant attacks on NATO fuel trucks heading from Pakistan to Afghanistan — the most recent on Monday — are a sign that the war against the Taliban is limping badly, if not hobbled. And they show the scarcity of supply line options may be a decisive factor in how and when the conflict concludes.
“The U.S. has tried to develop the northern distribution system, but the heavy duty supplies still have to go through Pakistan,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington. “Given the short timetable the coalition is operating on, the chances of finding an alternative are dim.”
Between 75 and 80 per cent of NATO supplies are trucked from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the forbidding Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan. The most crucial is fuel. But they include vital items from water to weapons.
The pass has been shut down several times, and after a helicopter fired on and killed three Pakistani frontier troops last week Pakistan blocked the supply lines. It had complained earlier of similar cross-border attacks.
For NATO, the route has been dogged by years of mayhem and uncertainty.