Since February 2014, “the U.S. has retrograded or divested 12,000 pieces of rolling stock - vehicles, mostly”, from Afghanistan, “and more than 25,000 shipping containers or vehicles have been exported to either U.S. bases in Kuwait or straight to the U.S.”, Star and Stripes reports on December 7.

The effort aimed at bringing a large number of soldiers and huge amounts of military hardware back home from Afghanistan is “a logistics Super Bowl”, says Colonel Ken Dyer, who oversaw the drawdown-related efforts. Dyer is the G4, or logistics chief, for the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, He had been deployed to Afghanistan for the past 10 months, serving “as the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan fusion director, overseeing retrograde, redeployment and material reduction”. He estimates that “the drawdown is nearly over”. Dyer has also been involved in another major ‘retrograde operation’, in Iraq (where “he served with the 18th Airborne Corps and another Fort Bragg unit, the 1st Theater Sustainment Command”). In the final four months of the war in Iraq, the U.S. moved “21,000 truckloads of equipment” out of the country. The effort done now in Afghanistan is even larger, and includes “many different military units, including the 1st Theater Sustainment Command and the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command”. The pace of ‘retrograde operations’ is without parallel: “In one day alone, Dyer said U.S. forces moved 860 short tons of equipment out of the country - enough to fill 20 C-17 cargo planes”. The costs of redeploying U.S. military personnel, weapons and equipment are also significantly higher: almost 70 % of “what has left” Afghanistan “has been flown out on Air Force or commercial flights - a far more expensive route than in Iraq, where most equipment was taken to neighboring Kuwait to sail back to the U.S”. The total value of the weapons and equipment redeployed is also really staggering, and Dyer says that “just in the last couple of months we’ve moved $4 billion back to States”.

A huge amount of “non-tactical equipment” – mainly housing containers, power generators and climate control systems – has been transferred to Afgan partners, simply as a consequence of the fact that “since February[2014], officials had essentially doubled the Foreign Excess Personal Property program”. The DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) has also “started a program to sell reusable goods to Afghan businesses that would otherwise be destroyed”. A large number of non-permanent buildings are to be destroyed – for example, this process the U.S. military is calling ‘descoping’ will lead to the “destruction of 2,385 buildings at Bagram Airfield”, out of “about 6,000 structures on the sprawling base that was once the size of Scranton, Pennsylvania - a city of just over 75,000” inhabitants. Before December 1, 2014, almost 92 % of the buildings “marked” for ‘’ had been destroyed. At Bagram Airfield (the largest military base in Afghanistan), retrograde operations also led to removing of “nearly four miles of chain link fence”. The U.S. military forces have also “trucked away over 120,000 cubic yards of debris”, and “they have also installed 15-foot concrete walls to provide additional protection to those buildings that will be left behind”[1].

On November 14, 2014, Christine Abizaid, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, “visited with the 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) on Nov. 14, 2014, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where she was briefed on the current progress of retrograde operations”. At that very moment, U.S. official sources said, “over the course of more than 10 months, roughly half of all U.S. equipment in Afghanistan has been either shipped out of the country, given to Afghan forces, sold to local businesses or destroyed”[2].

Earlier figures

In 2013, The Economist estimated that “the retrograde itself will cost as much as $6 billion and involve about 29,000 personnel, for the American part alone”, and that “in the next 18 months [May 2013 to October 2014] America expects to remove [from Afghanistan] as many as 28,000 vehicles and 40,000 shipping containers of equipment”, all these elements of military hardware “with an estimated value of $30 billion”. The same text reported that “by summer [that of 2013] more than 1,000 vehicles will leave each month, and perhaps twice as many containers”[3].

On November 5, 2014, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, Lieutenant General Joe Anderson said, on the occasion of a press conference, that “in the transition arena, we, as I think you all know, we are downsizing. We started off with 54,000 service members here when I took over in January [2014], from 48 nations. We're now down to 38,000 soldiers from 44 nations, 27,000 of which are American”. Anderson went on, saying that “we’ll get down to 12,500 here by the end of the year, which will be the 9,800 U.S. commitment” and that “we are heavily in the base closure transition process. We started with 86 at the beginning of the year. We’re down to 26 and we shut one more down next week and we’re done”. Speaking directly about the size and pace of ‘retrograde operations’, Anderson also said: “At the same time as the troop drawdown, we’ve been retrograding, redeploying, destroying and transferring equipment to the ANSF... We have reduced 21,000 pieces of rolling stock; about 1.7 million pieces of non-rolling stock; and retrograded and divested some others. And we’ve also on the foreign excess personal property, about $620 million worth of equipment has been transferred”[4].

All these figures, put together, offer a very clear image of both the strategic airlift and sealift capabilities of the U.S., which are a vital part of the American military power. And military power is, quite clearly, a very important ingredient of the national power. The ability to bring back home – or to redeploy – huge numbers of military personnel and vast amounts of military hardware of all sorts is a major proof that the U.S. national power is still enormously potent. And that the U.S. has vast global capabilities of all sorts, larger than those of any other country on the world arena.

[1] For all these date see, Drew BROOKS (The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (TNS)), “Bringing soldiers, gear home from Afghanistan is ‘logistics Super Bowl’”, Star and Stripes, December 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[2] Text accompanying a photo taken by Jared AUCHEY, U.S. Army, also at the Internet address, last accessed December 7, 2014

[3] “Withdrawing from Afghanistan: The big retrograde”, The Economist, April 27, 2013, at the Internet address

[4] “Department of Defense Briefing by Lt. Gen. Anderson in the Pentagon Briefing Room via satellite from Afghanistan”, November 5, 2014, News Transcript on the official webpage of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), text accessed at the Internet address

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