The Roof of the World

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The Wakhan Pass
For at least the last 5,000 years, one of the prime the raiding routes (in both directions) between China and the Asian Subcontinent has been the Wakan Pass (now referred to as the Wakan Corridor). It’s high country, well above timber line with the high point at over 16,000 feet, and it’s used in clement months to travel between Afghanistan and China, avoiding the really high peaks of the Pamir Range.

These are your traditional options for transit: 

(1) The Northern Route led up the valley of the Pamir River to Zorkul Lake, then east through the mountains to the valley of the Murghab River, across the Sarikol Mountains to China. 

(2) The Southern Route led up the valley of the Wakhan River to the Wakhjir Pass to China.  

(3) The Central Route branches off the southern route through the Little Pamir Valley (about 60 miles long) to the Murghab River valley.

Marco Polo took the Southern Route as did a number of British Army officers including Francis Younghusband and Lord Curzon. I was there in the spring of 1978 and have scars to show for it. 
Now the Pass is back in the news as if it’s “new”. Chinese troops have been operating in the pass (as they have since China came to exist about 5,000 years ago) and there is shock in the fact because it’s Afghan turf. The truth is that the Wakan Pass doesn’t really belong to anyone, no matter what sort of ink you lay to paper. The Chinese have an interest in patrolling the area because it adjoins China and terrorists use the route. There are no “roads” that one would recognize as such.
Afghan officials in Badakhshan Province probably are glad to have Chinese help in patrolling the Wakhan Corridor. It has been used for smuggling for centuries, as a segment of the original Silk Road. It is difficult terrain to police. The Pamir Mountains are referred to as the roof of the world because they are the junction of six of the world’s highest mountain ranges. 
Over the past few years, the Wakhan Corridor has been used by Uighur militants to move in and out of China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. China has a security interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan because Uighur militant separatists have trained in both countries.

Sensational articles of late have called for US involvement.


Iranian Missiles

Saba, the Iranian Houthi-controlled news agency, published a statement released by the Yemeni rocket units about the missile attack at Riyadh on the 6th. 

The statement said that “the long-range ballistic missile that targeted the Saudi military base in Al Muzahimiyah area, west of the capital Riyadh in Saudi Arabia was of the type Burkan-2.” The website stated that “the missile Burkan-2 is an improved version of Burkan-1, which in turn, is an improved version of the Scud missile.” (“Burkan” translates as “volcano.”)

The Saudis still have not commented on this attack. However, so many open sources have repeated the account of this missile attack that, if the attack did not occur, the Saudis should have denied it. The Houthis posted to the web a video of the missile launch and still images of multiple, supposed Burkan-2 missile air frames in a propaganda display.
This is the first use of the so-called Burkan-2, so few details about it are available beyond those that the Houthis disclosed. The Burkan-1 is known, however. It is a modified, extended range Scud short range ballistic missile, which was used to attack Jeddah last October. It is liquid fueled, carries a 500kg conventional warhead and can range 800kms (497 miles). 
The Houthi missile engineers, and whoever is helping them, apparently succeeded in gaining a hundred more miles of range by modifying the Burkan-1. The Houthis appear to be getting as proficient in tinkering with Scud ballistic missile technology as are the North Koreans.
Missile attacks on Riyadh would threaten to expand the battle space to include major cities in Saudi Arabia. Such an expansion would be impossible without outside help, meaning from Iran and/or Lebanese Hizballah. The Saudis might decide the time was approaching for a confrontation with Iran.
The threat of a direct confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran probably would prompt the Saudis to call in their markers with Egypt and Pakistan. Both governments promised to defend the Saudi Kingdom in the event of a direct threat of war.

Will the US become involved?


16 thoughts on “The Roof of the World

  1. IMHO. I think we should sit this one out… at least long enough to build and train our military back to power. Our guys need some R&R before going back into a shit fight.

  2. What on earth would compel the US to get involved in this forlorn hell hole of the Wakhan Corridor?

    Unless there are diamonds galore, uranium ore that we can ship out, or maybe a vein of gold that we can exploit, there is no reason whatsoever to get involved.

  3. Does the Wakhan activity have anything to do with the Chinese trying to mine copper near Kabul? Doubt any large scale smelting can be done in Afghanistan.

    The Chinese "Silk Road" railroad runs through territory not controlled by China. Could they go direct through this area? Be a bitch of an engineering job one would think.

  4. There is NO REASON to do any of this. NONE.

    My litmus test for war is this for a Congress or a President: If you know your child will certainly die – but it's worth going to war anyway – then the war is worth fighting.

  5. The place is exceptionally remote and there is NO REASON to get involved in that. But there is a sense of some government circles that we need to "beat the Chinese to it". Really? I'm afraid that we're at least 5,000 years too late.

  6. The best way for the Chinese to move metal out of Afghanistan is over the Khyber Pass, down into Pakistan and then up the massive highway that they built through that country – either up through the Hindu Kush or to the ocean.

  7. I don't see why we should get involved in either. And if for some unknown reason we do get involved, it should only be with the intention of winning.

    As for the Houthi missile attack. This blog is the only place I get such information. Typical for around here.

  8. The news media ignores things like the missile attack. Fox is 40% Saudi owned so they're not going to report it. The rest just want to attack President Trump. You can't get news on the news anymore.

  9. People in this area have been in conflict for generations. Let them practice their own traditions and heritage and continue to do what have kept them in the stone age. The US will get a lot better return when spending money on educating US kids and make them become smart engineers to solve what it takes to make America great again. Why engage in guys like this?

  10. I can't see any compelling reason to get involved in either place, but then I'm not a politician.

  11. I have some background with Afghanistan that goes back some distance – before the Russians invaded. The tribes are what they are and have no intention of training. I could go into detail on Pakistani involvement but suffice to say that I agree with your assessment.

  12. There is nothing in Afghanistan or in the Saudi-Iranian conflict that is worth one American life or even one minor American injury.

  13. Politicians expect bribes and kickbacks – in this case from military contractors who grow rich on these conflicts. They gorge themselves on the US taxpayer and parade themselves as patriots. I suspect that President Trump has a good grasp on this.

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