Moving On: Move One sees opportunities in East Africa and Central Asia as the US withdraws from Afghanistan. (Move One)
DUBAI — Over the past year, NATO forces have begun withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq while both countries are still battling al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The withdrawal efforts have created a steady business for logistics firms. But it would be a mistake to assume that business is drying up.
United Arab Emirates-based Move One Logistics said opportunities exist beyond the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“We are looking potentially in mining and natural resources where there is a lot of new cargo and mining equipment being imported by foreign companies,” said Gregory Forgrave, produce manager for government services at Move One. “We have been there [in Afghanistan] since 2001, and we are not looking at leaving any time soon. Also in Central Asia, it is somewhere we have been established even longer than Afghanistan, and we will be helping out in the US demobilization out of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.”
CEO Curt Clements said Move One sees its business now going from one or two markets to 40.
“The French now are getting involved and they could uplift their troops into Mali, for example, and would need a US uplift,” he said. “So to support that, the US may need intelligence bases, logistics bases. I don’t think the US military ever significantly gets smaller, they just shift around.”
Move One, which describes itself as the “final mile guys,” recently became the first international logistics company to register in East Africa.
“We see a lot of potential there, and we have a local partner in Ethiopia who will help us provide the service to our customers,” Clements said.
The company operates in hostile areasby partnering with the locals.
“We focus on what we do best and let the local guys handle their business because it’s their market,” Clements said. “We are going to rent your warehouse, we are going to hire your security, because we don’t get into their business and this makes it easier for us and them to operate more efficiently.”
However, the job comes with risks.
“We have had upset local authorities who in the same country beat our truck drivers because they thought they were smuggling uniforms while they were personal effects,” Clements said.
Forgrave said another troubling situation involved an urgent shipment of meals, ready-to-eat (MREs) from the US to Afghanistan to be distributed to US forces heading to southern Afghanistan to cut the poppy plants.
“The shipment arrived at Bagram air base and the MREs were distributed and the customer was very happy. But three days later, we received a notification that the supplier had made a mistake and not added cookies ... and we had to arrange a whole new charter of a planeload of cookies to be flown in and redistributed with the meals,” he said. “Stranger things have happened.”
Clements started supporting the US military and NATO when he delivered minesweepers to Sarajevo airport following the peace accord in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The company initially started operations in Russia as the customs broker and the heavyweight agent for logistics firm DHL, he said.
“In 1995, we set up in Hungary with the US military, and we supported their operations all over the Balkans.”
After 9/11, operations moved to Central Asia ahead of the Afghan invasion.
“We became the first international logistics company to operate in liberated Afghanistan and had the first trucks across the newly opened Peace Bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan,” he said.
The company, now 22 years old, moved its headquarters from Hungary to Dubai in 2008. “Dubai is at the crossroads of our markets, and it gives us an opportunity to be able to regularly meet our clients,” he said.
Because of its operations and locations, the firm has been dubbed by the local press as the “kings of chaos.”
“Just before the new millennium when the Y2K scare was going around, we used to get 100-page faxes from our customers asking what our Y2K preparedness is. And one of our managers finally just told them, ‘every day is Y2K for Move One,’ ” Clements said.
“Every day we don’t have fuel, we don’t have electricity, our communications don’t work, and the banking doesn’t work in the areas that we’re operating in; there is no predictability.”