One of my concerns for some time now has been how the USA will manage to extricate from Afghanistan its tens of thousands of troops and tens of billions of dollars worth of military hardware. The road and rail links through Pakistan are closed at present, and tenuous at best, and the alternative route through former Soviet republics to the North is much longer (and lacks access to seaports where US ships could load the equipment).
Military Times has published an article highlighting this dilemma.
As of Wednesday, the Pakistani supply routes for American forces into Afghanistan had been closed for 89 days. With no resumption in sight for normal supply lines, Army leaders are coming to grips with the startling reality the U.S. military might not have access to Pakistan’s ports to haul out the massive infrastructure it has built up in Afghanistan.
The Army is now testing whether soldiers and contractors can drive out the countless metal containers on a route called the Northern Distribution Network, that winds through the countries north of Afghanistan. If they must rely only on that route and air transport, it could as much as quintuple the cost, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Leonard, the head of Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
Pakistan closed the border to NATO in November after an air strike by a U.S. drone accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. had enlisted a team of contractors driving what are called Jingo trucks through the Pakistan and Afghan mountains from Pakistan’s ports packed with military supplies.
NATO has since had to rely more heavily on air transport, as well as trucks and trains driven through countries north of Afghanistan. Leonard said the U.S. has even used trains traveling along a Siberian railroad to supply U.S. soldiers.
. . .
Yet another challenge for the Army today is a basic question of timing: Combat continues in Afghanistan even as plans for the pullout have begun. That means the Army must be careful what it ships into Afghanistan, said James Dwyer, deputy Army chief of staff for logistics.
The service must carefully track what exactly is left in Afghanistan what supplies are coming in over those last months. The amount of gear and equipment left at Iraq forward operating bases surprised many transportation officials who arrived to move it out.
"Everything going in must eventually come out,” he said. “We have to be careful about sending what they need.”
There's more at the link.
There are two additional aspects, not mentioned in the Military Times article:
- The Taliban can make life very difficult for US forces as they withdraw. They'll be exposed to ambush by gunmen or improvised explosive devices (IED's) as they assemble at major bases and begin the long drive out of the country. Casualties might mount significantly.
- It may be tempting to abandon a great deal of military equipment in the country, in order to speed up the evacuation of personnel. However, this could also backfire on the USA. Anything left behind is almost certain to end up in the hands of the Taliban, and, through them, other terrorist organizations. The US might end up fighting against enemies armed and equipped with our own hardware for years, even decades to come.
This is going to be a situation fraught with difficulty. I hope the generals have thought it through . . . and I hope the politicians can keep their sticky fingers out of it, and let the professionals handle it. The prospect of the Obama administration trying to micro-manage the withdrawal for its own political purposes doesn't exactly fill me with confidence!