The Army sent out teams of soldiers and logistics experts to figure out if the U.S. could transport a decade worth of gear and infrastructure out of Afghanistan without using Pakistan's ports. And if so, just how more much it would cost to use a series of roads and rail lines through Central Asia called the Northern Distribution Network.
The answer is apparently in as the Pentagon has requested an additional $2.1 billion from Congress to make up for increased transportation costs since U.S. convoys can't pass the Pakistani border blockade. Logistics officials have already estimated it will cost an additional $100 million per month to transport U.S. supplies in and out of Afghanistan without access to Pakistan ports.
On Sunday, U.S. Gen. John Allen, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, met with Pakistan Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistan Army, to discuss the Pakistan blockade ahead of a likely meeting among Pakistan national leaders about the border debate. Pakistan officials closed the border to NATO convoys in November 2011 after a U.S. drone strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistan soldiers.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said June 29 that talks continue between the U.S. and Pakistan, but did not signal that either sides were close to agreement to allow U.S. convoys across the Pakistan border. He seemed almost relieved that negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistan were still alive.
“There still are some tough issues to try to resolve but, you know, I think the important thing right now is that both sides in good faith keep working to see if we can resolve this," Panetta said during a Pentagon press conference June 29.
The Air Force has already seen the additional strain placed on their cargo fleet as units have had to ship more of their equipment in and out of Afghanistan by air. Air Force officials have requested an additional $1.5 billion for additional fuel and $136.9 million to fix 21 C-17 engines because of increased wear, according to a Defense News report.
Army and Air Force logistics officers have described the stiff challenges they face hauling out U.S. infrastructure from a land locked country. One Army leader referenced the 1980s John Candy and Steve Martin comedy when asked how we would describe transporting supplies along the Northern Distribution Network.
“It’s really like the movie ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’ You have trucks and rails and everything going through there. We have multiple routes going up that way that we’re looking at [for the retrograde],” Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, the U.S. Army deputy chief of staff for logistics said at a conference in May.
Comparing the Iraq retrograde to Afghanistan would be a mistake. U.S. logistics teams had a number of advantages in Iraq such as free access to Kuwait, which Army officers called the "catchers mitt" because units could use the stock yards and ports as staging areas to sort equipment before loading it onto cargo ships.
Army officers attending an Association of the U.S. Army Sustainment Symposium in May said they knew the withdrawal from Afghanistan would be more expensive. Mountainous terrain and a lack of ports were the start of the problem. Not having those staging areas and benefiting from "economies of scale" will make it even harder, Mason said.
“Afghanistan is spread out, it’s decentralized. When you get economies of scale you’re more efficient. In Afghanistan we’re not going to be as efficient as we’d like to be," Mason said in May.