‘Clearing the clutter’ in Afghanistan 

7/1/2011 

Snow convoy 
Soldiers with the 101st Sustainment Brigade survey a route through the Salang Pass in the Hindu Kush mountains between Parwan and Baghlan provinces, Afghanistan. The brigade conducted a convoy to move cargo and supplies from the main logistics hub at Bagram Airfield in central Afghanistan to Regional Command-North.  Logisticians say the challenge is maintaining the flow of equipment while drawing down as well as continuing to support operations in Afghanistan.

With an eye on the Operation New Dawn drawdown that’s ongoing in Iraq, Army logisticians gave an overview of the opening stages of drawdown operations in Afghanistan.

At the Association of the United States Army’s Sustainment Symposium and Exposition March 11 and 12 in Richmond, Va., several panels touched on how lessons learned from Operation New Dawn are being used as a guide in Afghanistan.

Iraq and Afghanistan are similar in that they are land-locked, but they each have unique situations in regards to ground transport. In Iraq, it was easy to move equipment south via convoy to ships waiting at ports in Kuwait, a country that has supported U.S. operations.

However, the country bordering Afghanistan to the south, Pakistan, has proved to be tenuous at best for moving military equipment.

Even before strained relations from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, equipment coming through ports in Pakistan would sometimes get delayed or suddenly face mysterious fees.

Southern Afghanistan is also very different from other parts of the country, Col. Edward Daly, commander of the 43rd Sustainment Brigade, said. It’s very austere, kinetic and lacks infrastructure, and intelligence operations are "directly tied to our measures of effectiveness."

The establishment of the Northern Distribution Network has been a great help in moving U.S. equipment through countries north of Afghanistan, but the challenge is maintaining that flow during drawdown because equipment and supplies are still needed in country to continue supporting the mission, according to Brig. Gen. Philip R. Fisher, commander of the 184th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

Fisher said units are going to be held responsible for equipment, and the time is now to start figuring out what is and isn’t needed.

"‘Clearing the clutter’ has become a mantra," Fisher said.

Drawdown operations are targeted to be finished in three years, and "we must start now and can’t wait" for the last commander in 2014 to be burdened with the responsibility.

Fisher also urged those in attendance that if they had any influence in theater to tell people over there that "if you’re not using it right now, clear it out. Get rid of it."

In addition to equipment, now is also the time to decide which forward operating bases will close and which will be left in the hands of the Afghanis, he said.

The drawdown has also given the U.S. an opportunity to work logistics solutions with NATO partners, said Daly, who returned in March with 43rd SB soldiers from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan.

Whether partnered with Italians, British, Romanians, Lithuanians or Australians, "We were really seizing opportunities."

Meanwhile in Iraq, the final countdown has begun, said Brig. Gen. Jack R. O’Connor, director of operations and logistics readiness for the Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4. Transition of operations to State Department civilians will begin around September, and all troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.

July 1 through Sept. 31 is going to be a critical period, O’Connor said. Decisions need to be made on more than one million pieces of equipment valued at more than $14 billion – can it be sent back for use by active, reserve and guard forces, or can it be left behind for State Department use?

Brig. Gen. Mark W. Corson, commander of the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, returned from Iraq in April where soldiers from the 103rd were the primary logistical planners for the return of equipment and personnel from Iraq.

Governance within the organization was important to "re-posture the force and ourselves while drawing down," Corson said. "This included sustaining the force while [drawdown] was going on."

He also established an equipment distribution board that met two times a week, which proved to be essential in synchronizing roles and responsibilities within the unit.

As far as passing on lessons learned, Corson recommended cutting down on trans-loading along routes, optimizing the use of trucks, and minimizing restrictions, whether it be equipment design, route bottlenecks or border issues.