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The Salang Tunnel: Built by the Soviets, Used by the Americans to Leave Afghanistan

Updated on December 11, 2013

It takes about 15-20 minutes to traverse the tunnel built by the Soviets eons ago to access Afghanistan. The road is pothole happy and pavement disappears into dirt and gravel. Going through the tunnel, it is barely a two lane road and quickly becomes one lane when two semi-trucks carrying fuel or cargo meet. There is no traffic control at all and the tunnel inside is mostly pitch black. Water drips onto the payment from melting snow and ice makes it even far worse in the winter than summer.

It is also the long way out - 2.5 times further than the eastern route into Pakistan that would be taken if Islamabad was not anti-American, teeming with hostility, threatening to close the Khyber Pass once again, which is a much better way.

The tunnel is only 1.5 miles, yet the Hindu Kush region makes trucking perilous because of the drivers, no traffic control and dirt roads that are barely two lanes wide. As many as 28,000 vehicles and 40,000 shipping containers that need to go home from this landlocked country must now do so because of American-Afghanistan disputes about US forces there after 2014. US drone attacks have made Pakistan’s port of Karachi (once the favored route) not available much of the time, so America must exit via the Salang Tunnel.

It is about one hour from Kabul and once there, there is a long line of trucks of all sizes waiting for their turn to crawl up the mountain to the tunnel. It can take as long as week to get through.

From there the trucks head north and on through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Krygyzstan and Kazakhstan towards Europe. This tunnel designed for 2,000 vehicles per day now has to manage 12,000 every 24 hours. For years, a new tunnel was planned but at the cost of $1 billion, nobody thinks its worth the investment. It opened in 1964 and was the highest road tunnel in the world, cutting through the Hindu Kush at a height of 11,200 ft. and turning a three-day trip through the jagged mountains north of the capital Kabul into 10-hours. But that was then when traffic was nil.

In 1997, the Northern Alliance forces dynamited the entrance and rock faces sealing off the tunnel from Taliban forces as they advanced from Kabul. It was not repaired until 2001. The Americans made some repairs this year but already the road is falling apart inside the tunnel.

Yet, all the key exit routes for American trucks and equipment are subject to the political whims in Afghanistan, which are growing more anti-American despite the billions the US gives them. The Afghans do not seem to be very interested in maintaining or regulating the areas around these key tunnels very much, all choke points for the Taliban to attack or control.


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    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      Interesting post