BALKH PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN—The 101st Sustainment Brigade has continued to work with its Northern Afghan partners to ensure the success of the ambitious Hairatan Gate border crossing project.
The project, also known as the "Northern Distribution Network," has been cited by Brigade Commander Col. Michael Peterman as a "logistical game-changer," particularly in terms of what it will mean for the Afghan community and for U.S. forces as they prepare for eventual withdrawal.
"[Hairatan] is important because it's a large border crossing and [a viable] alternative to other border crossings here. Thus, limiting any disruptions would be of interest to us," said Maj. Jesse Wentworth, former tactical command post officer in charge for forward operating base Hairatan.
"By having boots on the ground, we can give real-time information to the brigade as to what's here and flowing, as well as partner with the Afghans. The same planes and trucks coming across the border that are contracted for us do the same for them," he said.
Wentworth said several agencies have an interest in the Hairatan Gate border crossing because of its location.
For starters, it is the first and only border crossing with a functioning rail line running to the city of Mazar-E-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan. The intent is to re-establish the distribution network in the north through Europe and Central Asia, and tie that line into its infrastructure, he said.
Another benefit of the crossing is its ability to improve the economy in the north. Dr. Hashim Barna, chief administrator of harbor services in Hairatan, said as commerce improves in the region, so does the quality of life.
"Not only does it provide economic stability and security in the region, but it also has the potential to play a significant role in bringing prosperity around the gateway to Central Asia," he said.
Barna also said the collaboration between coalition forces and regional Afghan leaders helps establish trust between the two. "It lets the Afghan people here know that the U.S. is here to help," he said.
Finally, establishing a rail line at the Hairatan Gate border crossing fits firmly into the plans laid out by International Security Assistance Forces Commander Gen. David Petraeus to create a means for a future withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"We're trying to think two to three steps ahead of where we're at. A safe, reliable route from Afghanistan is a plus," Wentworth said. "But we also need to ensure that we're meeting [President Obama's] intent and conditions that are being laid out."
Wentworth knows what's at stake in making Hairatan Gate work. "What's good for the Port of Hairatan is good for the future of Afghanistan," he said.