The continuing U.S. Marine offensive into Afghanistan's Helmand Province is causing some major logistics problems for the coalition. While the new offensive is making life even more difficult for the Taliban, the marines, in some cases, are using up supplies of food, water and gasoline faster than new provisions are being brought in.
The primary reason for this is the poor road network in area, and the increase in Taliban roadside bombs (IEDs). Helmand has few roads suitable for military vehicles, particularly heavy MRAPs (mine-resistant trucks). The increase in IED attacks has caused a number of senior marine officers to declare some of the few roads available, as off-limits. At least until a better strategy for keeping the supply trucks safe can be devised.
Logistics are always of paramount importance during major offensives, but fighting in mountains and desert environments increases this importance tenfold, since almost every conceivable type of war material has to be brought in from outside. During World War II campaign in North Africa, lack of supplies essentially caused the German Afrika Korps to collapse, in many cases relying on supplies of captured gasoline and spare parts. Deserts and environments like Afghanistan make the need for clean water and food sometimes more important than bullets and grenades.
Currently, the marines have adequate supplies of ammunition, gas, and other essentials necessary to wage war. But other things are becoming scarce and beginning to affect morale. Chief among these are mail, junk food, and tobacco products. Some marines in the province have reported that mail has come only three or four times in the last six weeks. Perhaps the most important things affecting morale is the lack of a PX for the 4,000 marines fighting in the area, the nearest one being at Camp Leatherneck near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
In a combat theatre where alcohol is virtually unattainable and chances for relationships with the opposite sex are forbidden, tobacco products become one of the chief luxuries for combat troops and an easy, if unhealthy, means of relieving stress. Without cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and other small luxuries, some marine officers and NCOs are taking it upon themselves to fly by helicopter to the nearest in-theatre PX to pick up these things for their marines. Some of the PXs have reported one or two officers or gunnery sergeants literally wiping the stores clean of tobacco products (smokable and chewable) and candy bars. to take back to their units.
As the offensive against the Taliban continues, marine leaders are eager to prevent morale from dropping as combat continues. Some are finding that they are willing to go the extra mile to pick up cigarettes and Hershey bars for their marines, if it means good combat performance.