Central Asia: Who’s the Big Winner in the NDN Sweepstakes?
The US Department of Defense makes approximately $500 million in payments annually to Central Asian states participating in the Northern Distribution Network. But the Pentagon won’t disclose the individual amounts that each state receives.
Beyond the commercial transit cost of each container shipped along the NDN, Central Asian states have negotiated transit fees for the use of their infrastructure. This figure collectively amounts to about half a billion dollars per year, CDR Bill Speaks, a Defense Department spokesman, told EurasiaNet.org.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan provide road and rail access for non-military goods bound for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Turkmenistan supports the war effort by providing fuel to commercial vendors selling to the US military, and by making available refueling facilities at Ashgabat airport for NDN-related flights. The ostensibly neutral country is not however officially part of the NDN. All five Central Asian states permit US military overflights.
Since the closure of the Pakistani-Afghan border to non-military freight in late 2011, the United States and NATO have relied on the NDN to supply troops fighting in Afghanistan. While NDN is reliable, it is also more expensive than the Pakistani route.
“The actual cost-per-container figure for NDN cargo is approximately $17,500, compared to approximately $7,200 for cargo through Pakistan ground routes,” Speaks said. “It should be noted that the NDN cost has come down from since we began using these routes -- in 2009, the average cost per container was more than $21,000.”
A source close to the day-to-day operations of the NDN said the United States and NATO are anxious to see the restoration of supplies across the Pakistani-Afghan border. Even if Islamabad was to impose a substantial tax and fee increase for transporting supplies through its territory, a Pakistani route would “still be cheaper and faster than the NDN,” said the source.
Meanwhile, the “short term estimate” of re-directing goods from the Pakistani ground route comes in at approximately $104 million per month. The Pentagon expects this figure to come down steadily.
“[This is] a short-term estimate of the cost to redirect cargo scheduled to move through the Pakistan ground supply routes […] This cargo would be moved into Afghanistan through the combination of the Northern Distribution Network, direct air movement and a combination sea/air route,” said Speaks, the Pentagon spokesman.
“Over time, mitigation measures can be taken to reduce this estimated cost as the supply distribution network is adjusted to the meet the change in routing of cargo,” he added.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.