Logistics: Pay The Troll At The Khyber Pass


March 8, 2014: Canada pulled the last of its troops out of Afghanistan in 2011 and it wasn’t until 2014 that all the containers containing their gear made it back to Canada. It was not supposed to happen this way as Canada planned to send most of its equipment home via 1,800 shipping containers which would be trucked to the Pakistani port of Karachi and then via ship to Canada. When all but 441 containers were sent out via the Khyber Pass and the handful of other roads out, Pakistan decided to shut down NATO access to Afghanistan. Pakistan wanted more money and lots of compensation for a border incident where 24 Pakistani border guards got killed when they were caught in the midst of one of the many incidents where Islamic terrorists would fire across the border at Afghan or NATO troops and get some return fire.

But there was another problem. About five percent of the containers that did arrive in Canada were filled with rocks and sand rather than the equipment that was originally packed into them. Somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan the seals were broken, the containers looted, and then the seals replaced with convincing facsimiles. There was no risk of weapons or ammunition being stolen as that gear was flown out.

Such thefts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not unusual despite the many precautions taken. Cargo theft is an ancient profession in this part of the world. Afghanistan was once part of the Silk Road (the trade route between the Middle East and China). The caravans had to pay a lot of attention to security. In Afghanistan, stealing from these caravans was considered great sport and quite lucrative if you avoided getting killed. Some things never change.

The remaining 441 Canadian containers sat in the sun for two years before it was decided to repack them and destroy, sell locally or donate to the Afghans items that were not worth flying out. The containers had sat in the open for so long that they had lost their waterproof certification and had to be repacked anyway. The last 212 containers were flown (at a cost of about $50,000 each) to the Persian Gulf and sent the rest of the way by ship. It would have been cheaper to pay the Pakistanis the extra $5,000-$10,000 in “fees” per container they were demanding, but in the long run it was cheaper not to encourage that sort of thing.





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