'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tanker War 

UPDATE: 35 more tankers burnt on the GT Road near Nowshera

INITIAL POST: The US blinks in Pakistan:

Dozens of tanker trucks carrying fuel to Afghanistan for NATO troops were torched near Quetta in western Pakistan on Wednesday, the third major attack on supplies since Pakistan closed a border crossing to Afghanistan a week ago and the first at the only checkpoint that remained open.

The latest sabotage came as American officials for the first time offered an explicit apology to Pakistan over a shooting that led to the closing of the other border crossing, possibly laying the ground work for its reopening.

At least one person was killed in the Quetta torchings after three carloads of gunmen fired at the tankers and then burned them, the police said.

According to eyewitnesses and initial reports some terrorists came on vehicles a few minutes before morning prayer and started firing and then burned some of the tankers, said Hamid Shakeel, the deputy inspector general of the Quetta police.

About 40 tanker trucks were at the terminal, and about half were saved from the attack, Inspector Shakeel said.

The attacks began last Friday after Pakistan closed a border crossing into Afghanistan at Torkham. Interestingly, the first attack took place in southern Pakistan, away from the border crossings:

More than 27 oil tankers carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan were burnt Friday when some attackers fired rockets at the vehicles parked at a fuel station in southern Pakistan, Geo News reported.

NATO sources told media, the ambush took place around 2 a.m. near Shikarpur Super Highway where over 30 fuel tankers were parked at a fuel station. Two civilians were also injured in the attack.

The miscreants unleashed rocket assault, which raged fierce fire in consequence, while the blazes engulfed 27 tankers laden with highly inflammable fuel, witnesses said, adding that three other vehicles parked nearby also caught fire.

Shikarpur police have placed stern cordon around the district, Saeed Ahmed, district coordination officer, said. Nearly 15-20 men were behind the attack, he added.

It is possible that the war has entered a new phase, with Taliban allies within Pakistan targeting NATO supply routes. The attacks upon the tankers highlight one of the major vulnerabilities of US forces in Afghanistan, its dependence upon fossil fuels transported over long distances. Michael Klare addressed this subject in relation to the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan back in 2007:

Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.

Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every soldier stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in training, or otherwise in line for eventual deployment to the war zone -- soldiers who also consume enormous amounts of oil, even if less than their compatriots overseas. Moreover, to sustain an expeditionary army located halfway around the world, the Department of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food, fuel, and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional tanker-loads of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's war-related oil budget jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we have no real way of knowing.

And foreign wars, sad to say, account for but a small fraction of the Pentagon's total petroleum consumption. Possessing the world's largest fleet of modern aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles, and support systems -- virtually all powered by oil -- the Department of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the world's leading consumer of petroleum. It can be difficult to obtain precise details on the DoD's daily oil hit, but an April 2007 report by a defense contractor, LMI Government Consulting, suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.

Not surprisingly, there are reports that the Pentagon is becoming a champion of alternative fuels:

The Pentagon is working hard to promote development of biomass fuels that could power future fighter jets and other warplanes, but defense officials say it could take years to get a full-fledged industry on its feet.

Top U.S. defense officials and executives from the petroleum, alternative fuels and renewable energy sectors are meeting outside Washington this week to address new technology developments and initiatives such as the Pentagon's work on developing biofuels to power military aircraft.

The long-term goal is to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil, said Air Force Colonel Francis Rechner, director of operations of the Defense Energy Support Center, run by the Pentagon's main logistics agency.

Rechner cited the March flight of an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane, powered by a mix of biomass and jet fuel, and the flight of the Navy's Green Hornet, a Boeing Co (BA.N) F/A-18 fighter jet powered a blend of jet fuel and a biofuel made of camelina, a hardy U.S. plant.

But can it be done quickly enough to escape the perils on the ground in places like Pakistan?

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