Credit: Kevin Uhrmacher/NPR
Major Choke Point
Even though the tunnel is only 1.6 miles long, arecent drive through it took more than 20 minutes because it's jammed with massive trucks inching alongthe cratered road.The diesel fumes were dizzying. At one point, the dust was so thick you could barely see five feet in frontof you. It's no wonder the tunnel has become known as a choke point."It takes us 10 to 12 days to get from the [Afghan] border through the Salang Tunnel," says Najibullah — Afghans typically go by a single name — a truck driver sitting on the southbound side of the road. Thedistance covered in this journey? About 200 miles.Lines of trucks waiting to pass through the tunneloften stretch up to 10 miles on either side. That'sbecause truck traffic is restricted to one direction ata time. Every 12 hours, the traffic alternatesdirections.Najibullah is hauling food for NATO troops that hepicked up at Afghanistan's border crossing withUzbekistan."A year ago, it used to take us one to two nights" tomake the approximately 265-mile journey fromUzbekistan to Kabul, he says. A year ago, 1,000 to 2,000 vehicles passed throughthe tunnel each day. But since the Pakistanisstopped allowing NATO to use their roads last November, traffic through the Salang has soared. Anestimated 10,000 to 20,000 vehicles are now passing through daily, and it's getting more complicated withthe drawdown of U.S. forces.
U.S. Pullout Creating Extra Strain
Stephen Biddle, an Afghanistan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, sums it up this way: "The issueis the mathematics of the stuff you need to move, the size of the pipe through which you're moving it, andhow much time you're willing to take."He says that the troops will fly out on schedule, but their equipment might take a bit longer. And, haulingarmored trucks and generators out via Salang could cost five times more than going through Pakistan. It'sputting even more strain on a situation that's already dangerous.Setting aside questions of avalanches, washed-outroads and asphalt collapsing under the weight of heavy trucks, Biddle says, "simply getting throughthe Salang Tunnel itself is a dangerous undertakingthat could very easily yield a catastrophe with asignificant loss of life."
A truck carrying food for NATO troops drives into the northernentrance of the Salang Tunnel. This truck waited several daysto be able to enter the tunnel.
Afghan Tunnel: Decrepit, Dangerous Yet Indispensible : NPRhttp://www.npr.org/2012/06/24/155302587/afghan-tunnel-decrepit-dange...2 of 36/25/2012 7:19 PM