General: Sequester Cuts Will Delay Afghan Pullout

Army combat and tactical vehicles.
Army combat and tactical vehicles.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Logistics officials here said soaring transportation costs threaten to delay U.S. Army Materiel Command's plans to ship the thousands of combat vehicles home from Afghanistan by the December 2014 deadline.

AMC Commander Gen. Dennis Via said on Thursday that the Army’s massive equipment transfer effort, known as retrograde, will be slowed down if the defense spending cuts under sequestration go forward March 1.

The Army is facing an $18 billion shortfall in operations and maintenance funds over the next year. This would come on top of the financial woes the service continues to endure from operating on a continuing budget resolution for the past 14 months.

“That will delay if we are talking about the timeline we have been given to get the equipment out by the end of December 2014,” Via told an audience at the Association of the United States Army’s Winter Symposium here.

A shortfall in overseas contingency operations funding “increases our transportation costs as we begin to surge equipment coming out of theater as we did surging equipment to go in.”

The goal of AMC’s retrograde mission is to ship about $22 million of the $28 million worth of equipment home so it can be reset and funneled back into the force.

AMC recently completed a much larger retrograde operation in Iraq, but the conditions there were much different, Via said.

“Certainly Afghanistan is not Iraq; we know we just cannot push it across the border and sort it out at the end of the day,” Via said. “We have to fly a lot of equipment out.”

The Army can once again truck equipment through Pakistan, Via said. Pakistan closed its border to American and NATO vehicles in November 2011 after Coalition airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani border troops. The border didn’t reopen until July 2012.

“We are starting to move some equipment there, not to the levels that we need of course, and not to the previous levels we enjoyed” in the past, Via said.

Ongoing combat operations also make retrograde operations in Afghanistan more challenging more than they were in Iraq, Via said.

“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,” Via said.

Commanders however have “embraced retrograde as an operational mission,” Via added.

“They have prioritized non-mission essential equipment to be removed from theater, and we have processes in place to do that.”

The key, to this type of operation is ensuring that the processes are as efficient as possible. Last year, it was taking about 90 days to process vehicles for retrograde; “they have now got there process down to under 12 days,” Via said.

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