Written by Spc. Michael Vanpool
101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs
Balkh Province, Afghanistan – More than 3,000 miles make up the borders of Afghanistan. Yet for all this land, there is not a single view of the ocean, much less a way to receive supplies through the waterways.
For years, Afghanistan and coalition forces have shipped most of their supplies through the Indian Ocean, then trucked through Pakistan before arriving in the south of Afghanistan.
A year ago, nearly three-quarters of everything entering the country came through Pakistan. Now, through a small town in the north, the dynamics are changing. The port of Hairatan is the final stop for cargo destined for Afghanistan through a railroad that starts in central Europe.The 101st Sustainment Brigade stood up a tactical command post near Hairatan this past December to oversee the bustling shift of resupplying Afghanistan. Almost a year later, more than half of everything arriving into country is from the trains in Hairatan.
“[International Security Assistance Force] cargo comes through trains, and also fuel comes through here as well,” said Maj. Jason Cole, tactical command post officer in charge, 101st Sus. Bde. Joint Combat Outpost Hairatan.
“Basically the train is a great mover. Take a look at the U.S. History; the train did a lot for the growth of our nation. Trains, it’s the way to go for the future of Afghanistan, and they have a lot of plans for trains.”
Railroads in Afghanistan are starting to be embraced more by the country, after decades of war halted the expansion of trains into the country. Now the rails are planned to grow from the north down to the other provinces.
The port at Hairatan is a major part of the Northern Distribution Network, a line of moving cargo and supplies to Afghanistan through the countries along the northern border of the country.
The coalition forces’ focus on Hairatan has created more jobs in the port for the local Afghans. As the population grows, it’s not just the port that is seeing a rise in employment. Day cares, shops and schools that are supporting the workforce are developing as well.
“Hairatan, when it was created, it was built around the port, the port authority, so the families that are in Hairatan, are all tied in with the port and the port director,” Cole said. “So everyone else that is up in Hairatan, all the other services were created based off the need of the people that work here in Hairatan, and work in the port.”
The Lifeliners at Hairatan are mentoring and working with the leaders of Hairatan to guide them toward to the future after the ISAF cargo stops rolling into the port.
“I’m a firm believer that along with security in Afghanistan, it’s economic growth that’s going to turn this country around,” Cole said. “We’re helping them improve their business, become more efficient, so that when we leave, they have the ability to solicit more business and more civilian economic business for the port.”
A partnership has grown between the port director, the local community and the Lifeliners as they work toward the future. They work out ideas and projects to improve not just the local business and community, but lives of the Afghans working in Hairatan.
“If we come to a place and we’re here for nine or 10 months, if we don’t leave making that place a better place with our abilities,” Cole said, “then we have not done out duty as ambassadors of the American people.”