Somewhere over southern Afghanistan, a US Air Force transport crew prepares to drop a load of supplies by parachute to a Marine unit below.
Rugged terrain, poor roads and relentless enemy attacks force US planners to deliver most combat supplies by air. "You just don’t have the lines of communication, the road structure, that brings things here sufficiently," said US Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Kwast.
How to get supplies to troops is just one of several logistical problems that US planners need to address if thousands of new American troops join the eight-year-long war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon budgeted $1.4 billion for new construction in Afghanistan for 2010. But much more may be needed.
The logistical challenges intersect at Bagram Airfield, outside Kabul. A former Soviet base, Bagram is the main supply, personnel and medical hub for the war effort. "The facility here is the central hub for the development of governance and security in Afghanistan. What I mean by that is, everything that comes into Afghanistan comes in through air, if it has any short-term requirement," said Kwast, who oversees air operations at the base.
The passenger terminals and cargo yards are filled to capacity, "Each day we move approximately 4000 passengers a day, inbound and outbound, plus 400 tons of cargo per day," said Lt. Col. Dan Krall, a logistician working under Kwast.
Medical infrastructure represents another problem. With mounting casualties, Bagram’s military hospital, the biggest in Afghanistan, is working overtime. Hospital commander Col. Joe Chozinski says emergency cases are up five times compared to last year.
To meet demand, the Bagram hospital has added a large tent to house patients awaiting flights to US facilities. Additional troops will need even more facilities.