WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is working to sell as many as 2,000 of its hulking mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles in Afghanistan instead of sending them home or destroying them in place — provided the foreign buyers pay to ship the trucks out of the country themselves.
The cost of shipping an MRAP back to the U.S. and fixing it up runs the Pentagon about $250,000 to $300,000 per vehicle. With about 11,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan, bringing them all back home is too expensive to contemplate, according to Pentagon officials. Overall, the US military is destroying about $7 billion worth of material in Afghanistan as US troops head for the exits.
A Pentagon spokesman said that several foreign countries have expressed interest in buying the Afghan MRAPs but no final agreements have been signed.
In the end, the Army plans to retain about 8,000 MRAPs after completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, a number that carries a substantial logistics and maintenance bill.
Between January 2013 and the end of December 2014, it’s estimated that it will cost between $5 billion and $7 billion to bring all U.S. equipment out of Afghanistan, either by ground transport through Pakistan or by air through the Northern Distribution Network.
The ground route is the cheaper — if longer — option, though the U.S. military stopped all cargo traffic out of Afghanistan on Dec. 3 due to security concerns.
The route, which winds through dangerous mountain territory in Pakistan, runs from Torkham Gate at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border down to the port in Karachi in Pakistan.
There have been days of protests led by Pakistani politicians protesting U.S. drone strikes in their country, which worried U.S. officials who feared the convoys would be attacked.
Pentagon officials said that they expect the roads to reopen soon, but couldn’t put a date on it
If the roads through Pakistan remain open, the final price tag should be closer to the lower number; if weather or another breakdown in the relationship with Pakistan closes the roads, the cost will go up, according to Pentagon officials.
Before the shutdown, things were picking up. In October, the U.S. shipped out a record 33,000 tons of equipment from Afghanistan, with about 56 percent going by road through Pakistan, said Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesperson.
The NATO military command in Kabul also said the retrograde is proceeding as planned. U.S. forces in the country continue to redeploy “in accordance with President Obama’s announced level of 34,000 troops in country by Feb. 1, 2014,” spokesman Lt. Cmdr. John Ripley emailed. There are currently 46,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan.
However quickly or slowly the withdrawal proceeds, the Pentagon insists that it has plans to deal with it.
“When we started the retrograde we didn’t know what the final end state would be, so [a flexible end strength number]is more or less built into the plans we already have,” Wright said. The plans are “flexible enough to allow us to scale up or down” depending on the pace of the withdrawal and the potential size of an American and NATO follow-on force.
One of the most critical hubs in the Northern Distribution Network is the transit center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, which the Pentagon will shut down in July 2014 when its lease with the Kyrgyz government expires. Since the United States will still be flowing troops and equipment out of Afghanistan, the U.S. and Romania signed a pact in October allowing the Pentagon to use the Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase on the Black Sea instead of Manas.
The Kyrgyzstan operation has been a matter of dispute for years, with the Kyrgyz government announcing it would cease American operations there in 2009, until the U.S. agreed to triple yearly payments to about $60 million.