Can The US Afford to Keep Pouring Money Into Afghanistan’s Salang Tunnel Money Pit?

The Salang Tunnel was carved into the Hindu Kush Mountain to connect the capital of Afghanistan with the country’s northern provinces. Construction on the 1.6 mile long Salang Tunnel was completed in the 1960s by the Soviet Union in what was then considered to be an engineering marvel. Since that time, the Salang Tunnel has become a treacherous, and expensive, point of interest in the region.

As the only viable land passage way from Afghanistan’s Southern and Northern provinces, as well as a gateway for other central Asian countries into the nation, the Salang Tunnel sees over 6,000 vehicles every day on a passageway that was only designed to carry 1,000 at most. Large cargo trucks to small family automobiles make this dangerous route, and 80 percent of the regions commerce passes through the Salang Tunnel. But the journey is not an easy one; with the tunnel deteriorating and the deadly avalanches paving the way to the tunnel itself, the Salang Tunnel has become one the U.S. Military’s major money pits.

The United States has spent over $100 billion on reconstruction projects in the country of Afghanistan, including a hefty $19 million that was put into emergency repairs for the Salang Tunnel just last year. To complicate matters for the disintegrating tunnel, Taliban insurgents are increasingly attacking the Salang Tunnel and the motorists on it, thus causing further structural problems for the tunnel and making the way even more dangerous. The conditions of the tunnel has traffic crawling at a snail’s pace, which fills the passage way with deadly fumes and road debris and deadly fires and numerous avalanches have claimed a number of lives, including the series of avalanches in February of 2010 that resulted in the deaths of at least 172 people.

One of the major obstacles to repairing the Salang Tunnel is the fact that authorities refuse to shut down the tunnel to allow for any major repair work. This means that the millions of dollars that are being poured into the Salang Tunnel are, at best, directed towards minor, temporary fixes. Other possible alternatives have been suggested, but the Afghan government does not have, or will not commit, the funds for such projects, committing only $15 million to a possible project that would cost at least $70-$80 million dollars. So who, then, is expected to continue paying for the Salang Tunnel?

With concern over spending brewing at home and many of America’s impoverished unable to obtain health care or seeing their food stamps and unemployment benefits being reduced, hearing that their nation is pouring millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars into the Salang Tunnel money pit and other construction projects in Afghanistan is a political liability that Washington simply may no longer be able to afford with election time just around the corner. Thus, the fate of the Salang Tunnel may have to lay solely in the hands of its own nation.

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]