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Roads And Air Traffic

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – I had hoped to be in Khost Province, near the Pakistan border, by now. But catching a military flight out to Forward Operating Base Salerno proves to be an exercise in patience.

It’s the most remote base of its kind in Afghanistan, meaning that on the list of essential personnel and material that need to be flown out, journalists are low-priority. Add to that a sudden downpour -– Khost has practically a different climate than the rest of arid Afghanistan, I’m told – and it means hauling a bunch of gear down to the Pax Terminal only to have to haul it back to my bunk.

Salerno is said to be the hardest base to reach in the whole country. But the difficulty in getting there demonstrates a greater truth about Afghanistan: there aren’t really any paved roads.

There’s a ring road circling the country; a highway from Kabul to Kandahar, and a whole bunch of dirt roads. Dirt roads are bad for convoying – they’re murder on trucks – and good for planting roadside (dirtside?) bombs. All this means that U.S. and allied forces are heavily reliant on air traffic for resupplying themselves.

Think about what that means to a civilian through a counterinsurgency prism. The government can’t really reach them to provide services in a timely or sufficient fashion — due to basic problems of transportation. Meanwhile, the options for jobs, health care and food boil down to warlords and the Taliban.

After all, it’s rather hard for a foreign force to provide population-protection and alternate economic opportunity when it is difficult to drive to where the people are.

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