KABUL: Facing a tight withdrawal deadline and tough terrain, the U.S. military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment as it rushes to wind down its role in the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014.
The massive disposal effort, which U.S. military officials call unprecedented, has unfolded largely out of sight amid an ongoing debate inside the Pentagon about what to do with the heaps of equipment that won’t be returning home. Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment, about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan, because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home, a report in Washington Post said Friday.
That has left the Pentagon in a quandary about what to do with the items. Bequeathing a large share to the Afghan government would be challenging because of complicated rules governing equipment donations to other countries, and there is concern that Afghanistan’s fledgling forces would be unable to maintain it. Some gear may be sold or donated to allied nations, but few are likely to be able to retrieve it from the war zone.
Therefore, much of it will continue to be shredded, cut and crushed to be sold for pennies per pound on the Afghan scrap market.
“We’re making history doing what we’re doing here,” said Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, head of the 1st Sustainment Command, who is overseeing the drawdown in Afghanistan. “This is the largest retrograde mission in history.”
The most contentious and closely watched part of the effort involves the disposal of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the hulking beige personnel carriers that the Pentagon raced to build starting in 2007 to counter the threat of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The massive trucks, known as MRAPs, came to symbolize the bloody evolution of wars that were meant to be short conflicts but turned into quagmires.
The Pentagon has determined that it will no longer have use for about 12,300 of its 25,500 MRAPs scattered at bases worldwide, officials said.
In Afghanistan, the military has labeled about 2,000 of its roughly 11,000 MRAPs “excess.” About 9,000 will be shipped to the United States and U.S. military bases in Kuwait and elsewhere, but the majority of the unwanted vehicles, which cost about $1 million each, will probably be shredded, officials said, because they are unlikely to find clients willing to come pick them up.
Those MRAPs that the Pentagon has deemed unnecessary have been arriving by the dozen at scrap yards at four U.S. military bases in Afghanistan in recent months.
In another section of the scrap yard, a massive grinder gobbled slabs of steel, turning them into small scraps. The debris is packed into U.S.-owned shipping containers that also have been deemed unfit to return home.
Last month, the Kandahar yard produced 11 million pounds of scrap that was sold to Afghan contractors for a few cents per pound, said Morgan Gunn, a Defense Logistics Agency employee who runs the site. Afghans use the scrap mainly for construction and as makeshift spare parts.
As they have debated how much excess equipment to shred or sell, officials have considered whether the defense industry would suffer if the Pentagon unloaded tons of used equipment on the market at vastly reduced prices.
Military officials said they have spent billions of dollars equipping and building up Afghanistan’s security forces over the past decade, outfitting them with lighter tactical vehicles that are a better fit for the country’s rudimentary road networks.
The U.S. Army owns the lion’s share of the military equipment currently in Afghanistan. As of May, Mason said, $25 billion worth of equipment was deployed with Army personnel. After an analysis of needs and costs, it has decided to ship back no more than 76 percent. Transporting that much will cost $2 billion to $3 billion, the Army estimates. And repairing the gear that comes back will cost $8 billion to $9 billion.
As the U.S. military reduces its footprint in Afghanistan from 150 bases to 50 by February, teams are ramping up their efforts, finding more efficient ways of sorting through equipment to be shipped and drawing from lessons learned in Iraq.
In recent months, after Pakistan, a neighbor of landlocked Afghanistan, agreed to let the U.S. military use its roads to ship materiel out through its ports, most containers that don’t include sensitive materials or weapons are being trucked out by land. Shipping through Pakistan is by no means trouble-free and officials recognize that the route could get shut down in the event of a new spat between Islamabad and Washington.