Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peshawar's black market for stolen military goods

Vulnerable supply lines put US mission at risk

Six weeks after GlobalPost broke the story of stolen US military computers and hardware, the black market still thrives.


ISLAMABAD — As President Obama sets in motion a new strategic initiative in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  supply lines remain vulnerable to attack and a black market is still thriving in stolen military hardware and computers.

As the U.S. begins a surge of 21,000 troops and military advisers in Afghanistan over the summer, the threat to supply lines and the stolen equipment could compromise the mission, military analysts say.

More than six weeks after GlobalPost broke the news of American military hardware and software being sold openly in markets in Pakistan's northwest, the trade of American goods robbed from supply trucks and smuggled in from Afghanistan is still going on.

U.S. military officials in Pakistan would not comment on GlobalPost's special report titled "In The Wrong Hands," even as attacks on convoys are on the rise. 

The problem the U.S. confronts in keeping supply lines open is critical as the U.S. steps up its mission. More troops will need more uniforms, Kevlar vests, boots, canned food, sleeping bags, night vision equipment, and computers — a melange of supplies that enables the military to wage war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the hostile "Af-Pak" terrain.

But just as the demand for war materials is set to surge, the supply of vital equipment to American soldiers remains imperiled in its route through Pakistan and there are few signs of improvement.

Earlier in March another eight trucks laden with NATO supplies were torched outside Peshawar, the largest city in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Another dozen were damaged when militants armed with automatic weapons and grenades attacked a truck terminal.

Since 2007, several hundred NATO supply trucks have been torched and looted in similar attacks.

Noor Muhammad a trader in Sitara Market, a hub for stolen American military equipment where GlobalPost purchased a U.S. military issue laptop for $650 last month, says business is still good.

"We feel no threat from law enforcement," he says. "These are smuggled goods, but
we are just meeting people's demands."

The day after GlobalPost's story last month the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report that revealed that American forces had lost track of more than 87,000 weapons supplied to Afghan security forces between 2004 and 2008.


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