US faces $6 billion bill for Afghan war clean-up

  • Emma Graham-Harrison, GNS, Bagram Airbase
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  • Updated: Mar 27, 2013 01:20 IST

Fighting wars is expensive, but so is winding them down. As the US prepares to ship most of its weapons, vehicles and other equipment home after more than a decade in Afghanistan, the bill for the move will be a staggering $6bn, officers in charge of the complex process say.

Rusting Soviet tanks and guns still dot the Afghan landscape, serving as bleak memorials to violence of the 1980s, and perhaps a spur to Nato forces to ensure there are no similar reminders from the last decade of conflict.

The US military has pledged it will level any bases not handed over to Afghan forces and fly out, drive out or scrap the weapons, equipment and tens of thousands of Humvees and expensive MRAPs - mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles - it has shipped in since 2001.

To do this, it must sort through 100,000 shipping containers and strip down nearly 30,000 vehicles scattered in hundreds of bases across Afghanistan's mountains and deserts, all by a 2014 deadline, while making sure nearly 70,000 US soldiers still in Afghanistan are not left short of equipment they need to fight.

"Our workload will at least double by the beginning of the fall," said Brigadier General Steve Shapiro, deputy commander of the unit overseeing the removal, sale or destruction of around $26bn worth of equipment, known to the military as a "retrograde".

"We're hearing about $6bn in transportation costs," he said, as civilians and US soldiers sorted and labelled new arrivals in one of three 60,000 sq ft warehouses on Bagram airbase which currently holds around $200m worth of neatly stacked equipment.

Bagram, the first US base for their war in Afghanistan, is one of two hubs for an effort that employs nearly 10,000 soldiers and civilians and is proving far more challenging than the US departure from Iraq, which Shapiro also helped co-ordinate.

In Iraq, US equipment was trucked across the border to Kuwait where it was packed, cleaned, recorded and shipped on. But Afghanistan has no coastline, no stable, US-friendly neighbours and only a weak, vulnerable road network, making the job more expensive and complicated.


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