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In a landlocked, mountainous country the size of Texas, moving supplies is no easy task.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Moving all the things 100,000 troops need to fight and survive in a hostile foreign land is never an easy task. In a landlocked, mountainous country the size of Texas, with few paved roads, it is even harder.
“I don’t think anyone has ever brought in this much equipment to a landlocked country that has only two major airports,” said Col. Gary Sheffer, acting commanding general of the U.S. Military’s Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan. “Without the road network, the railroad network, it’s a huge effort.”
And the effort has only grown more intense this summer. Sheffer and the 5,000 troops under his command are responsible for supplying all American forces in Afghanistan with everything from food and water to bullets and beds.
They are now on the front lines of President Barack Obama’s troop surge into southern Afghanistan that began this summer. Almost 100,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan — up from about 40,000 when Obama first came into office. That increase has come in a short period of time, with 30,000 arriving in just the last eight months.
With the surge, Sheffer’s quartermasters and logisticians have seen their jobs grow more frantic. The dusty central receiving and shipping point at Kandahar Airfield, one of several massive supply yards here, is filled with everything the troops might need: mobile kitchens, bulldozers, transport trucks and thousands of shipping containers stacked in twos and threes. They are filled with radios, tires and everything else imaginable.
“We’ve had a 300-percent increase of what used to be pushed through here since we took over,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Garcia, from the 567th Cargo Transport Company, as he directed a forklift bearing yet another shipping container to its spot in the stack.
The 567th transports about 150 to 200 shipping containers or other pieces of equipment per day.
Sheffer said moving supplies in Iraq, with its port, relatively flat topography and extensive highway network, was a breeze compared with Afghanistan’s mountains and mostly dirt or gravel roads.
He said Kandahar Airfield has become the busiest single runway airport in the world with a flight slot every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. The military uses planes and helicopters to move much of its “sensitive equipment,” like ammunition and combat vehicles.
Lt. Col. Ralph Burks, the distribution integration branch chief for the Sustainment Command, said between 6,000 to 8,000 Afghan and Pakistani trucks move 80 percent of the U.S. military’s supplies around Afghanistan each day.
“That many trucks moving back home would be impressive,” he said. “Out here, it’s amazing.”
The amount of supplies moving around the country is equally amazing and the costs staggering.
The Sustainment Command has supplied 47 million meals to U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the last six months at a cost of $900 million. During the same period, the Command processed 15 million pounds of ammunition, 21 million pounds of mail and distributed 237 million gallons of fuel. At the same time, the Sustainment Command’s troops also procured and delivered over 2 million gallons of bottled water. Capt. Jason Mann said they buy water from 10 plants located around the region.
“We’ve got some that comes from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, two located in-country in Kabul, and various plants in the [United Arab Emirates] that we source from,” he said.