Kyrgyzstan cuts key U.S. lifeline to fight Afghan war - UPI.com
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan has cut America's most important supply lifeline into Afghanistan right after President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to be sent there.
The Parliament of Kyrgyzstan voted Thursday to evict the United States from Manas Air Base outside the capital Bishkek. The United States will have 180 days to evacuate the facilities and lose its key refueling base to supply forces in Afghanistan.
This pending expulsion of U.S. forces from Manas is a huge humiliation for the United States in Central Asia and marks a sea change in Russia's attitude toward the long-running U.S. and NATO war against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. It also serves notice that Obama's "surge" policy in Afghanistan is in dire trouble even as he launches it.
The U.S. armed forces have enjoyed impregnable, secure air and sea supply lines in fighting wars around the world for almost 70 years since their involvement in World War II. So the idea that land and air supply lines could be threatened or cut is completely unthinkable to Pentagon generals and administration or think-tank armchair strategists alike.
But from the annihilation of the Athenian army in the famous Syracuse campaign more than 2,400 years ago to the destruction of the German Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43, cutting off an army's supply lines has marked the death knell of scores of thousands of soldiers or more every time it has happened.
The 50,000 -- soon to be 67,000 -- U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan are still getting their supplies, and Manas should stay open for another six months or so. But once it closes, those supplies will have to come through Pakistani land roads that run through some of the most mountainous terrain in the world, or they will have to be delivered by air in large, potentially vulnerable and easily detectable supply aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force has the finest military airlift capacity in the world, but none of its Boeing C-17 Globemasters or shorter-range Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules air transports have stealth capability. And if Pakistan fell into hostile hands, no U.S. aircraft combat fighters operating from bases in the Persian Gulf or from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean would have the numbers or range to offer comprehensive protection against hostile Pakistan air force attacks, using the very F-16 fighters that the Bush administration supplied to Pakistan.
That nightmare scenario seemed unimaginable until this week. But Pakistan's weak and ineffectual government led by President Asif Ali Zardari has just signed an agreement with pro-Taliban forces that already control almost all of the sparsely populated but enormous North-West Frontier province allowing them to enforce Shariah Islamic law throughout that territory. President Obama has been reported to have privately approved the agreement in the hope that it will help stabilize Pakistan.
In 2005 the United States was expelled from its other key strategic foothold in Central Asia, Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, known as K-2. Without either K-2 or Manas, Obama now faces the quandary that the more troops he sends to Afghanistan to prove his determination to fight there, the greater the problems the U.S. Air Force will have in supplying them.
The land route through Pakistan is already extremely unreliable. The Khyber Pass -- a historic frontier for generations of the British Empire in India against the uncontrollable chaos of Afghanistan beyond it -- is now being periodically shut down by Taliban attacks on U.S.-organized supply convoys to American and NATO forces in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. That makes the air route crucial.
Even if the U.S. Air Force can supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan indefinitely, the cost would be prohibitive to the cash-strapped U.S. government. Also, the wear and tear on the U.S. transport aircraft involved will be enormous, and the USAF will be robbed of its ability to rapidly deploy troops to other trouble spots around the world while the airlift is going on.
The Air Force already has its hands full supplying the more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and once they withdraw, Iraq will face the threat of major insurgency and possible rapid takeover by Iranian-backed extreme Islamists who are determined to proclaim their new caliphate in Baghdad.
U.S. policymakers owed Russia's former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, much more than they usually publicly acknowledged in his support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan from November 2001 to the present. But now Russia has decisively moved to cut the remaining supply lines to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Kremlin offered Kyrgyzstan $150 million in immediate aid and $2 billion more in credits right before Bishkek moved to evict the United States from Manas. Yet Russia is suffering a huge financial crisis, and the ruble has been plummeting in value against the far-from-strong dollar.
In other words, the United States can realistically expect no help whatsoever from Russia in opposing the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The Russians look ready to sit back happily with their arms folded and watch the United States flounder. Even if they offer a supply route, it is bound to come with expensive strings attached -- probably demands for the immediate cancellation of U.S. plans to build any ballistic missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect the U.S. Eastern Seaboard against a possible Iranian nuclear-missile attack.
The closure of Manas also comes as NATO defense ministers gather in Krakow, Poland, for a regular summit meeting. Obama wants his European allies to boost their forces in Afghanistan, but his prospects for getting this are not bright.
Obama, indeed, might do better to scrap his plans to boost U.S. forces in Afghanistan and slow down his plans to pull them from Iraq, making those moves contingent on real concessions from Iran. As things stand, the growing Afghan war crisis could make even Iraq look easy by comparison.