How the War in Afghanistan Depends on the Khyber Pass

We begin the day haunted by two images. The first is a chart of crude oil going back about six weeks.

6-Week Crude Oil Price

The second is a picture of refined crude going up in flames today.

Oil Fire

That is a convoy of NATO tankers bound for Afghanistan. Or should we say “was.” For the seventh time in a week, gunmen in Pakistan have ambushed and/or torched NATO convoys.

It’s happening far from any major Middle East oil fields. But this sort of thing makes oil traders twitchy anyway.

The attacks are a vivid reminder of an old military saw: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” That is, what’s really important in war is to keep the troops supplied with ammo, food and fuel.

Especially fuel.

“Soldier for soldier,” says Byron King, editor of Outstanding Investments, “the modern US Army uses about 10 times as much fuel as did Gen. Patton’s troops in World War II. And Patton’s army used about 10 times as much fuel per capita as did the American Expeditionary Force in France under Gen. Pershing in World War I.

“Today, there’s no escaping the dictates of fuel logistics, and certainly not when the campaign is in distant Afghanistan.

“Thus, when I heard that the Pakistanis had closed the Khyber Pass to truck traffic – including the critical fuel trucks – my first instinct was that America’s opponents (and NATO’s, as well) have found a key center of gravity.

“Cut the fuel and American/NATO operations within Afghanistan will decline proportionately.”

No doubt… 75% of NATO’s supplies come through just two slender routes stretching up from Karachi, Pakistan.

Oil Supply Routes in Afghanistan

“The initial event that sparked closing Khyber Pass,” Byron goes on to explain, “was a US helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani soldiers.

“One way or another, the severed fuel lines are the kernel of strategic disaster for the US/NATO in Afghanistan. This is the kind of issue that makes US diplomats go into private meetings with senior host nation officials and discuss ‘very severe consequences’ if things don’t change in a hurry.”

“Now that the Pakistanis have closed the pass and allowed fuel trucks go up in flames – live and in color, on TVs across the world – they’ve made their point. They’re smart enough not to rub it in. I anticipate that the Pakistanis will soon reopen the Khyber Pass.

“It’s worrisome, but not out of control. Still, it doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

Addison Wigging
for The Daily Reckoning