In an interview with Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who is leading the military’s drawdown in Afghanistan reveals the challenges facing the U.S. military in its exit.
Transferring U.S. military gear out of Afghanistan will cost billions and will be a more difficult operation than last year’s operation in Iraq, Carter says.
The drawdown operations in Iraq only required loading trucks, driving them a few hundred miles to Kuwait, and then shipping the equipment back to the U.S.
Carter describes Afghanistan as a very austere location to conduct transport due to continuing combat operations, bad terrain, narrow roads, and the long distance to the seaport.
Currently, there are 80,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and around 20,000 of them will return to the U.S. in October. A complete drawdown of combat forces is scheduled for 2014.
According to Vanden Brook’s article, Pakistan recently reopened the supply route after it was closed last November when U.S. service men mistakenly killed 24 Pakistan personnel on the border.
The exit strategy in Afghanistan requires a dangerous 1,000 mile drive to Karachi, Pakistan.
To date, only five trucks have reached the Pakistani border crossing in the north while nine made it in the south, an indication of the slow process the drawdown has been.
Carter estimates that it will be three months before traffic to Pakistan will be free flowing.
Despite the difficulties, Carter explains that it is the best way to conduct the transfers.
He said that air freight or traversing the long, overland route to neighbour nations in the north can add more than $100 million to transportation expenses every month.
There are a number of distinct challenges to successfully drawing down forces and equipment in Afghanistan, according to Carter:
First is disassembling 400 bases. All of the items must be put in inventory, cleaned, and delivered to the U.S. or to other bases around the world.
Second, 100,000 shipping containers must be returned. Pentagon records state that the military spent $610 million in late fees over the last decade due to overdue rental of containers.
Lastly, 45,000 military vehicles must be cleaned prior to shipping. The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates that equipment must be cleaned of dirt chunks larger than a finger in order to prevent transmission of alien species to the U.S.