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Vulnerable supply lines put US mission at risk

Six weeks after GlobalPost broke the story of stolen US military computers and hardware, the black market still thrives.

Here in Pakistan, the country through which nearly three-quarters of all American military equipment travels, things appear to be running along a similar script. A web of state-owned and private, mostly publicly unaccountable, entities handles U.S. military supplies before they ever get into Afghanistan.

A U.S. military official stationed in the region, who spoke to GlobalPost on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. military was aware of the regular material losses it suffered inside Pakistan. While losing vital material and information was “not a running problem,” the official said, “we are relying on the Pakistani police and security forces” for improved security.

Ahmed Rahsid, the author of the book Taliban, says the system through which NATO’s military supplies are transported in Pakistan is “thoroughly corrupt.” “Everyone is getting their cut,” he said, referring to the different levels of the transport chain.

NATO uses private shipping companies like the Denmark-based MAERSK and Singapore-based APL to transport military supplies to Pakistan’s main Arabian Sea port at Karachi.

Here, the National Logistics Corporation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan military, receives all shipping containers, after they have passed through customs. While the corporation does not publicly admit to handling NATO supplies, it confirms that it is responsible for tracking all shipping containers inside the country.

Loosely formalized private trucking companies — the two largest are run by Pashtun families with useful networks in the tribal areas and Afghanistan — load these containers full of military supplies on the back of elaborately decorated 18-wheelers. These truckers are then
responsible for transporting the goods safely to American military bases in Afghanistan.

Shakir Afridi, a trucking baron in Peshawar says the veil of secrecy over the entire process offers an opportunity to many to make illicit money.

“Everyone — the port authorities, custom officials, border checkpoints, the Taliban, even the people receiving the shipments at Bagram — everyone has their own demands.”

A failure to meet the “demands” at any point, he says, not only puts the lives of truck owners and drivers at risk, but also threatens to unravel the supply line.

And when the military equipment that gives American forces the edge in battle does fall off the supply line at one of these hurdles, the real trouble begins.

Jannat Gul, a shopkeeper at the bustling Sitara Market says he would happily sell any military equipment that might come his way ... to anyone.

“We needed no other information on the buyers,” he says, “except money in their pockets.”

Read the GlobalPost exclusive: In the wrong hands

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