The Caribou airlifter flies so low through the mountains and valleys of eastern Afghanistan that it’s invisible from the ground … until it’s right on top of you. The Vietnam-era, twin-engine cargo plane with the cranked wings and bulbous nose appears suddenly, racing just a couple hundred feet over the U.S. Army outpost on the outskirts of Marzak, in remote Paktika province. At a precisely timed moment, the Caribou pitches upward. A dozen black plastic pallets tumble from its cargo hold and, parachutes unfurling, drift down onto a snowy field adjacent to the American base. The Caribou, hundreds of pounds lighter, dives for the safety of a nearby valley.
The dramatic “Low-Cost, Low-Altitude” (LCLA) resupply, which I witnessed numerous times during my week at Marzak in January, represents the latest tactic in the high-stakes logistical campaign that underpins the U.S.-led war effort. Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply methods.