History Rhymes

A truck driver waits to pass through the Salang Tunnel. NY Times
Entrance to the Salang Tunnel circa 1989

The Salang tunnel fire occurred on 3 November 1982 in Afghanistan's Salang tunnel during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Details are uncertain, but the incident may have been the deadliest known road accident, and one of the deadliest fires of modern times.

Soviet troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, nine years after they swept into the country.
The journey is especially dangerous on the Salang Pass through the Hindu Kush Mountains, where more than 10,000 mujahideen operate.
The mujahideen - Afghan Islamic fighters - have been involved in heavy battles to try to force a Soviet retreat.

SALANG PASS, Afghanistan — Nowhere is the impact of Pakistan’s ban on NATO truck traffic more visible than here at the top of the Hindu Kush, on one of the only alternative overland routes for supply convoys to reach Kabul and the rest of the country.
This is the only passable route for heavy truck traffic bringing NATO supplies in from the Central Asian republics to the north, as they now must come.
There are other roads, but they are often single-lane dirt tracks through even higher mountain passes, or they are frequently subject to ambushes by insurgents and bandits. So a tunnel built to handle 1,000 vehicles a day, and until the Pakistani boycott against NATO in November handling 2,000, now tries — and often fails — to let 10,000 vehicles through, alternating northbound and southbound truck traffic every other day.
“It’s only a matter of time until there’s a catastrophe,” said Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, the head of maintenance for the Salang Pass. “One hundred percent certain, there will be a disaste[r]"
“I’d rather be driving to Kandahar,” he said. Trucks need to have armed guards because of insurgents on that route, he said, “but I’d rather do that than all this waiting.”
[P]akistan has expressed willingness to reopen the frontier: for a fee of thousands of dollars per truck, compared with $250 previously. “We’re not about to get gouged in the price,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta

There is one downside to the northern routes, however. Bringing supplies overland on trucks and railroads all the way from Europe and across Central Asia costs two or three times as much as shipping them by sea and moving them up through Pakistan.
"Cost is a huge issue, obviously, for anything we're doing in the [Defense] Department and the government right now," says Mitchell. "But obviously the protection of our forces and the ability to achieve our mission is also extraordinarily important, so we need to balance the cost with the urgent requirements on the ground."

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is paying six times as much to send war supplies to troops in Afghanistan through alternate routes after Pakistan’s punitive decision in November to close border crossings to NATO convoys, the Associated Press has learned.
Pentagon figures provided to the AP show it is now costing about $104 million per month to send the supplies through a longer northern route. That is $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.
Over the past year or so, the U.S. military has been shrinking its reliance on the Pakistani routes, which are used to transport fuel and other non-lethal supplies. U.S. officials say they could manage indefinitely without that access if Pakistan either makes the closure permanent or offers to reopen it under unacceptable conditions.