WASHINGTON — One of the big losers in the sequestration/continuing resolution fight could be the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, according to Army leadership.
The overland routes through Pakistan that U.S. and NATO forces have long relied on to move material in and out of Afghanistan “are not really that open to facilitate our ground transportation for our equipment in and out of theater,” Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, director for Army Budget, told reporters on Feb. 27.
“That means that we have to fly equipment in and out of theater and our second-destination charges for air transportation have been increasing far beyond what we had projected in the budget,” she added.
Unlike the previous decade of war, however, the Pentagon can no longer simply throw money at the problem to make it go away. With the Army facing an $18 billion shortfall in funding due to sequester and the CR, which includes about $5 billion to $7 billion in wartime funding, the cash for these extra transportation just isn’t there, Army leadership insists.
NATO’s use of the Pakistani route has been embroiled in an ugly political spat since the mistaken bombing of a Pakistani Army outpost in November 2011 by American forces, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Islamabad government reopened the route in July 2012 after Washington apologized for the deaths, but the flow of equipment since then has been intermittent.
In June 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that the closure of the roads cost the U.S. $100 million a month.
The Army’s current plans call for shipping a staggering $22 billion worth of equipment out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the projected shortfall in funding will hit those plans hard.
“Sequestration takes away all of our flexibility,” Gen. Dennis Via, the chief of Army Materiel Command, said at the Association of the United States Army’s winter conference on Feb. 20.
“As you begin to retrograde, the transportation costs increase,” he said. “That’s what you’ve heard the department talk about in the [overseas contingency operations account] shortfall because it increases our transportation costs as we begin to surge equipment coming out of the theater.”
In Iraq, the Army spent $5 billion more in the last quarter of the drawdown than in the previous quarters, according to Dyson, who said that the surge in spending was necessary due to “the increased operations that are needed to bring all of the equipment out of theater, and we would anticipate the same thing as we look ahead to the drawdown in Afghanistan.”
As for the ground commanders in Afghanistan, Via added, “they are still in a very, very tough fight as they transition the mission lead to the Afghan Army, so it’s retrograding while in contact, and I don’t think there can be any more complex mission than what we face there in theater today.”