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Defence IQ

DH-ell: The Logistical Nightmare of Withdrawing From Afghanistan

Contributor:  Defence IQ Press
Posted:  10/30/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT  | 

Rate this Article: (4.3 Stars | 3 Votes)

The volume of voices calling for a quicker withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan is getting louder as the 2014 deadline looms. Earlier this month it was reported that George Osborne spoke up at a National Security Council meeting, lending his voice to the increasingly popular belief that the British drawdown from Camp Bastion should be sped up. What are the motives behind this stance?

Probably for George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, the foremost reason is the economic impact.

Recent figures released by Parliament indicate that the mass-scale logistical operation would cost far in excess of what was originally planned for. To move a standard 20 ft. ISO container by road or rail the government calculated it would cost around £4,000 and to travel by air it would be £8,000. However, new data suggests that these figures could be as high as £12,000 and £30,000 respectively. To put that in context, the equipment in Afghanistan could fill as many as 15,000 containers along with another 500 vehicles.

And that’s just Britain – an Associated Press report disclosed that the U.S. could have 100,000 containers worth of equipment and upwards of 50,000 vehicles.

In short the withdrawal from Afghanistan will not just be a logistical challenge; it will be a high-cost, high-pressured logistical nightmare.

A new passenger terminal is under construction at Camp Bastion, indicating that the transportation by air – which avoids concerns of enemy interference on the region’s road network – is the preferred exit strategy. Perhaps that’s not surprising since Afghanistan is land-locked, meaning that it’s unlike when the U.S shipped out of the first Gulf War and used Kuwait as a staging area to load the equipment onto boats.

While air may be the best practical route, that’s not to say it is without complications. Francis Tusa, the defence analyst, looked at the complexities in his recent article.

“…key airlift assets are already in short supply, making them even more important—and expensive,” Tusa explained. “Antonov An-124 airlifters have been extensively used to transport outsized loads, mainly mine-resistant, ambush-protected and armoured fighting vehicles into theatre—a role they will have to reprise on the way out. While there are around two dozen An-124s readily available for charter, more than a dozen NATO nations will be bidding to rent them. And they will have outside competition—they are also sought by Formula One teams to move between races, and by China-based toy and computer companies to get products to Western markets in time for the holidays.”

“We are leaving [Afghanistan] in 2014, no doubt about that,” said Vice President Joe Biden in his recently televised debate with Paul Ryan.

No doubt? Time, cost and practicality are all hurdles suggesting otherwise.

What do you think about the withdrawal from Afghanistan? Should it be sped up? Send in your comments to


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UnionSteve 11/02/2012 9:11:08 AM EDT

This article misses out a big part of the equation: exactly how much (and what) kit is going to be brought back? And who is going to pay for its support once it is back in the UK? Much of the UoR equipment does not have support contracts in place, as it was not procured using TLCM principles (which the Army has been slow to adopt anyway). A year ago, the received wisdom in MOD was that this kit would be left behind. Now, however, it seems the Army in particular realises it isn't going to be able to buy any new stuff in future (it's all stuck on the 'Whiteboard'), so it will have to bring vehicles back from Afghanistan, despite them being bought for that particular purpose. But that also leaves the Army and DE&S with headache of how to set up and fund support structures for these platforms.
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