Sending Hamburgers to Kabul and Bleeding the American Taxpayer
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Chalk it up to the genuine strangeness of our second Afghan War. Americans, according to the latest polls, are turning against the conflict in ever greater numbers, yet it’s remarkable how little -- beyond a few obvious, sensational events -- they know about what’s actually going on there in their name.
Take as an example the cost of the war and a startling development of the last four-plus months that has driven it significantly higher. Keep in mind that the Afghan War is being fought by a fuel-guzzling U.S. military in a landlocked, impoverished South Asian country with almost no resources of any sort. Just about everything it needs or wants -- from fuel, ammunition, and weaponry to hamburgers and pizzas -- has to be shipped in by tortuous routes over thousands of exceedingly expensive miles.
Up until last November, more than 30% of the basic supplies for the war came by ship to the Pakistani port of Karachi and were offloaded onto trucks to begin the long journey to and across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. Late last November, however, angry Pakistani officials -- as Dilip Hiro describes below -- slammed that country’s border crossings shut on American and NATO war supplies. Those crossings have yet to reopen and whether they will any time soon, despite optimistic U.S. press reports, remains to be seen.
The result has undoubtedly been a resupply disaster for the American military, but you would never know it from the startling lack of coverage in the mainstream media here. All supplies now have to be flown in at staggering cost or shipped, also at great expense, via the Northern Distribution Network from the Baltic or the Caspian seas through some portion of the old Soviet Union.
Soon after this happened, there were brief reports indicating that the costs of shipping some items had gone up by a factor of six, depending on the route chosen. Back in 2009, it was estimated that a gallon of fuel cost $400 or more by the time it reached the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and that was by the cheaper Pakistani route. How much is it now? $600, $800, $2,400?
We don’t know, largely because coverage of the Afghan war has been so patchy and evidently no reporter bothered to check for months. Only in the last week have we gotten a Pentagon estimate: a rise in shipping costs of about 2½ times the Pakistani price. (And even such estimates are buried in wire service stories on other topics.) In other words, for months no reporter considered the border-closing story important enough to make it a feature piece or to follow it seriously.
In an America where financing is increasingly unavailable to fire departments, police departments, schools, and the like, is it really of no significance what money we pour into our wars? Is no one curious about what the Pakistani decision has meant to the American taxpayer?
Think about that as you read “Taking Uncle Sam for a Ride,” the latest piece by South Asia expert Dilip Hiro, the author of the just-published book Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia. Is it really in this country’s interest to get held up by our “friends” repeatedly to continue to fight a disastrous war in a country in which we’re now negotiating to keep military trainers, special operations forces, and possibly others a decade beyond 2014 (another subject barely covered by our media)? Do you really want to be going through a version of this with Pakistan 10 years from now? Is your greatest desire to be supplying American military personnel with gas and hamburgers at earth-shaking prices in the second decade of a no-longer-new century?
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author ofThe American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’sas well asThe End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute'sTomDispatch.com. His latest book,The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published in November.