Photo: US Army Benjamin Faske
It’s no secret that containers filled with gear meant for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan are targeted by gangs looking to cash in on the supply line. Sohail Khattak reporting from Pakistan for The Express Tribune says you can find all kinds of genuine military goods —from new uniforms to night vision goggles — at flea markets in Karachi, the sea port and financial hub of Pakistan.
Shop keepers buy the items from looted NATO containers before they reach the troops.
Or, as one peddler revealed to Khattak, intercepted goods are re-routed from within Afghanistan and sent out of the country to Pakistan through border towns:
“US commando boots, safety shoes, army uniforms, glasses, knives, torches, tools, socks, beds and even night vision goggles are sold in Chaman and Peshawar.”
A NATO truck driver based in Karachi explains what happens:
- Truckers often have contacts within criminal gangs, who hijack trucks and give a share of the loot to the driver under the table.
- The looters cover their tracks by hiring expert forgers, who break the seals of the target container without signs of forced entry.
- The pillaged container is then filled with rocks, sand, and cement, to counter the lost weight.
- Lastly, the forgers reseal the container and get away with the loot.
Because of Taliban fighters disguising themselves in stolen Army uniforms, the Pentagon has previously warned commanders in not to ship “sensitive cargo” through Pakistan, and instead have it flown directly into Afghanistan, reported Philip Ewing at Politico.
But of course, looters in Pakistan — linked to the Taliban or not — are still managing to take a slice out of Western forces’ supplies.
The Indian Express reported last year Pakistani investigators claimed over 50,000 containers meant for Western forces were looted en route to Afghanistan between 2007 and 2010.
NATO’s crucial supply line to Afghanistan passes though Pakistan, although the usual route was blocked last November in retaliation for U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.Mohammad Islam, a locally-hired transporter of NATO supplies, says the most prized containers are the ones leaving Afghanistan because they contain a variety of both used and unused gear.
If it was good enough for frontline troops, it’s worth the looters’ effort of breaking in.
Despite the looting, Pentagon press secretary George Little says the U.S. is trying to get the supply route open again and is hopeful it’ll happen soon. Declan Walsh at the NY Times reports up to 60% of NATO military supplies depend on that route. There are alternative routes through Central Asia, but they’re not as convenient.
Pakistan’s parliament is debating future relations with the U.S. and the supply route issue is expected to be addressed today. Farhan Bokhai at CBS says hardcore Islamists and nationalists want Pakistan to completely close the door on the U.S. They vow to stop the supply route from ever reopening.
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