Publications of experts CACDS - Southern Caucasus

Rauf Radjabov: "The role of the South Caucasus region in logistical support of the US operation in Afghanistan"

Frequent visits of high-ranking American diplomats and generals in Baku indicate that Washington wants to significantly increase the volume of freight traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (CDS) - a system of road, rail and air transportation of special cargo across the territory of the Turkish Republic (TP), Georgia, Azerbaijan The Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Uzbekistan to the US forces in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA).

Washington seeks to reduce its dependence on the Pakistani land route. True, the US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) does not detail the plans for expanding the CPC. Moreover, as a key component of the CDS, Baku already provides a safe route for the delivery of US and NATO special forces for 40% of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the IRA.

The prospects for using the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad route are expedient in the context of US geopolitics and strategy, for which the BTK is a corridor linking the East with the West, the RF and IRI. It should also be borne in mind that the regional processes in the South Caucasus are characterized by a clash of geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of the USA, the EU, NATO, the Russian Federation (RF), the TF, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the People's Republic of China (PRC).

In other words, the geopolitical struggle unfolds around access to energy resources of the Caspian-Central-Asian region and South Asia, as well as control over regional transport communications. And The United States seeks to achieve its interests in this geopolitical struggle, including a significant weakening of Moscow's strategic positions in the Caspian-Central Asian region and South Asia. Indeed, the United States seeks to direct major trade flows from the East to the West. It is precisely in this geopolitical configuration that the BTK railway line should be implemented.

Interests of the United States

To meet the increased need for military supplies to the IRA and reduce dependence on supply lines from Islamabad, the administration of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, forms a land route to the CPC, including commercial logistics arrangements linking the Baltic and Caspian ports with the IRA through the South Caucasus and Central -Asian region (CAR).

The fact is that US President Jerzy Trump's decision to increase the US military contingent in the IRA, to strengthen the sanctions regime against the IRI and the Russian Federation, suspend military assistance to Islamabad, oblige Washington to accelerate the launch of the land route of the CPC through the TF, Georgia, the AR, the Caspian Sea, the RK the direction of Uzbekistan, which has a rail link with the northern part of the IRA. Therefore, the US is interested in using the BTK railroad line for the transportation of military cargoes. In the course of discussing the offer of the corridor of BTK in connection with this purpose, Ankara has already given its initial consent to the transport of military cargo along this corridor.

By the way, Ankara, Baku and Tbiliss lobbied the use of NATO's railways for carriage of goods, both in the IRA and in the opposite direction. In particular, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Georgia and the TF acted in the format of the ISAF at the North Atlantic Council with a corresponding presentation on the BTK railroad and held a joint presentation in Brussels. In turn, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov 9 November 2017 took part in a ministerial meeting that plays an active role in NATO's mission to the IRA, "Strong Support". Z. Gasanov in Brussels noted the importance for the NATO mission open at the end of October 2017 year of the BTK rail main. According to Z. Gasanov, the BTK railroad will become part of the transport system on the scale of Eurasia. And Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov believes that the US and NATO should use the BTK railroad.

It should be noted that Tashkent actively supports the BTK corridor within the framework of the CDS, which has a positive effect on the prospects of the railroad. Thus, during the visit of the President of Uzbekistan Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirzieyev to the USA, the sides also touched upon the issues of organizing the transit of American cargo to the IRA. During the meeting with the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, D.Tramp noted the long-standing partnership with Tashkent in the fight against terrorism and, in particular, the issue of providing the logistical access by the Uzbek side to the United States of the IRA, which is again of particular relevance to Washington. In turn, Sh.Mirziev in the course of negotiations confirmed his full support for the strategy of D.Tramp in South Asia and assured that Tashkent would provide further support to the CPD.

The prospects of the CPC

Today, with the deterioration of US-Pakistani inter-state relations, the question is that the land logistics corridor from the Arabian Sea (Karachi) to the IRA will close.

But the main route for the delivery of American cargo to the IRA is the territory of Pakistan. Engineering equipment, spare parts, foodstuffs, household products, arrive in sea containers in the Pakistani port of Karachi. Weapons and ammunition are delivered to the IRA exclusively by air. In Karachi, containers and fuel are loaded onto locomotives of local truckers who travel through Pakistani territory to the Afghan city of Quetta via the region of Balochistan and the cities of Kandahar, Bagram and Kabul through the Pakistani city of Peshawar. This route is 2 thousands of kilometers and involves 2,5-4 thousands of vehicles. By 2009 year, through the territory of Pakistan, IRA delivered 90% of cargo to US military personnel.

Transportation of US specialty cargo on the southern route of the SRC route was one third more expensive than transit through Pakistan, but cheaper than air transportation (14 thousands of US dollars per 1 ton). In 2011 year, the transport of one 20-foot container with a carrying capacity of 24 tons by CPC cost 20 thousands of US dollars. In 2011, over 35, thousands of containers were transported across the territory of Pakistan for the needs of NATO, and over two branches of the CPC - 27 thousands of containers.

The South Branch of the CPC allows you to transport one-third of the freight that goes along the route of the CPC. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that in the 2011 year, the armed contingent of the United States and their NATO partners in the IRA was 130 thousands of people, which is not comparable to the current number of US military (15 thousands of people). Within the framework of the USSS, it will be necessary to carry considerably less freight than in the 2011 year. And it is unlikely that the southern branch of the CPC will replace the route through the territory of Pakistan - it will only allow the transportation of part of US specialty cargo. After all, the maritime route of US special cargo shipments through Pakistan to the IRA is much cheaper than through the airports of TF, Georgia, the AR and the Republics of Central Asia (CA). Obviously, large-scale air transportation of special cargo is very expensive. Moreover, there is no significant increase in the contingent of the United States and NATO in the IRA.

It should also be taken into account that land transit for US weapons through Pakistan Washington has paid Islamabad a total of 33 billion dollars for 15 years of cooperation. Therefore, Tashkent has previously tried to materialize its status as the only CAR country with a rail link with the IRA, and has sought to obtain additional 50% of the cost for the transit of US military cargo from the IRA, insisting on an additional premium to the amount that US partners receive. By the way, the official authorities of the countries included in the SRC route consider this corridor to be a commercial transit, for which the US must pay a considerable amount of money. In addition, the authorities of the republic believe that the transportation of American special-purpose bulk will load up existing capacities and will contribute to the development of their transport and logistics potential.

Moreover, the US opened the CPC after 2009 year. Theoretically, the only available for the US and NATO alternative route for the delivery of special cargo is the corridor TR - AR - RK - RU - IRA. With the fact that the US plans to transfer to the IRA various military equipment - UAVs, helicopters, armored vehicles and artillery. To date, Washington has invited the TP, AR, RK and RU to include the ports of Baku, Kuryk and Aktau in the transit route to deliver special cargo from the territory of the TF, Georgia and the AR through the Caspian Sea to the RK and then by rail through a number of railways. stations - through Saryagash, Keles or Beineu - "Karakalpakiya", then in RU and IRA.

However, nowadays, in the north of the IRA, armed Taliban troops dominate. The SRC route passes through the central part of the IRA, and the United States does not escape the Taliban's armed attacks on American special cargo passing through the Salang Pass linking the northern and central parts of the country. Providing US specialty cargo through the province of Herat is also dangerous, since and here the control over the province is in the hands of the Taliban movement. True, the United States is conducting bilateral talks with the Taliban, including on the issue of security. While Washington should prepare for the withdrawal of its limited forces from the IRA in the event of a political settlement of the Afghan civil war.

In addition, the potential of the BTK railways can be fully utilized only if Chinese goods are diverted to this corridor. The fact is that Brussels is considering the BTK corridor through the prism of the EU's economic interests. If the trade between the EU and China now amounts to 500 billion US dollars, then by 2020 this volume will increase to 800 billion US dollars. The prospects for trade growth between the EU and the PRC largely predetermine the interest of Brussels in ensuring that the respective trade flows pass through the corridor of the BTK. In Brussels, it is believed that thanks to the further improvement of transport links between Turkey and Bulgaria, as well as between the AR and the CAR, the BTK railways will provide a fast and reliable land-based link between Europe and Asia along the Silk Road. The landline between Europe and China on the BTK rail link will take about 15 days, which is more than 2 times faster than the sea route. Cargo transportation from the People's Republic of China to countries such as Germany, France and Britain occupy the 45-62 day. The BTK railroad will allow delivery of cargo for 30-45 days. The cost of this corridor is cheaper than air travel in 2 times. At present, the volume of goods shipped from China to Europe exceeds 240 million tons.

It is symbolic that the Armenian authorities consider the BTK railway main line as an inseparable part of the Silk Road.


In fact, CPC restores military logistics, which was set up in the 2000 years through transport nodes in the Central Asian republics. Then this route served as an addition to the Pakistani route, and now it can become main in two cases:

First - if the administration of the President of the United States, D. Trump, will carry out his threat and leave Islamabad without annual financial injections, and the Pakistani side will close the US military route from the Karachi port to the Afghan border in return. Because Islamabad prohibits American soldiers from organizing escort protection from the port of Karachi, the United States is losing out due to frequent Taliban attacks on Pakistani wagons near the IRA border. Moreover, for every truck with supplies, Islamabad receives from Washington 1500-1800 US dollars. The route through IRP is the shortest, cheapest and acceptable way to deliver US and NATO special cargo to the IRA.

According to the above-mentioned route of the CPC through RU, it is possible to go about the transportation of fuel, equipment, products, construction materials, that is, non-lethal goods. As for lethal goods and military personnel, they will have to be delivered to the United States by air from military bases in the Persian Gulf: Al-Udayid and Al-Sayliya in Qatar, Camp Arrifan in Kuwait, or the base of the Navy in Bahrain. In any case, all these options are much lower in all parameters of the route through the IRP. Alternative ways of delivering American special cargo in the IRA are more expensive in 7-8 times.

The second - if the talks between the US and the Taliban move to a failure with all the ensuing consequences, including the organization of an American offensive against the Taliban in the spring of 2019. In this case, it will be necessary to increase, on the one hand, the military contingent of the USA and NATO in the IRA, and, on the other hand, the supply of special cargo on the CPC.

Rauf Radjabov

Orientalist, Head of the 3 Information and Analytical CenterRD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan