The United States military is making steady progress in the removal of people and equipment from landlocked Afghanistan, according to military officials who say the delay in a final decision about the U.S. presence after 2014 should not prevent a full-scale withdrawal, if that becomes necessary.
The removal of thousands of pieces of equipment, large and small, from Afghanistan has been an even greater challenge for Pentagon planners than the much larger Iraq withdrawal.
Because Afghanistan has no access to large waterways, virtually everything must be flown or trucked out of the country, left behind or destroyed.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan, recently told congressional leaders that he was confident about where the military is in terms of the drawdown.
“To put that in some perspective, at the height of the surge in 2012, we had about 800 ... bases down to patrol bases,” he told the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee March 14. “Today, we have approximately 80. So we have 10 percent of the footprint that we had in 2012.”
U.S. troops in Afghanistan number fewer than 34,000 — well below the 100,000 U.S. troops at the height of the surge, he said.
“A little over year ago, we had almost 40,000 vehicles that needed to come back to the services to be reset,” Dunford told lawmakers. “We have less than 10,000 that are in place today.”
Dunford insisted that without a bilateral agreement in place by September that would permit the United States and its allies to keep forces in Afghanistan after 2014, there is a risk that not all the equipment could be removed or disposed of in time.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about rumors that the military was destroying equipment.
Dunford assured the committee that no equipment “that is serviceable” was being destroyed.
“We do have 4,000 pieces of equipment that have been identified as the Excess Defense Articles,” Dunford acknowledged. “So after we’ve gone to the services and we’ve said, ‘What is it that you need to have returned back home to reset the service?’ After they have identified those requirements, there’s 4,000 vehicles left, 1,200 of which are” Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
Dunford explained that it costs the military less than $10,000 to destroy an MRAP, but between $50,000 and $100,000 to actually move the extremely heavy vehicle.
The military is looking, however, at ways to turn these vehicles over to partners such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. But they would have to accept those vehicles “as is,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.