`NATO routes closure proved to be costly for US`

A top Pentagon commander said that without Pakistan`s support, the US would have to rely on "more extensive" use of airlift in Afghanistan.

Updated: Jun 28, 2012, 15:46 PM IST

Washington: The US would have to rely on "more extensive" use of airlift during the 2014 drawdown of troops from Afghanistan if the ground routes closed by Pakistan do not open in time, a top Pentagon commander has said.

He also acknowledged that the closure of ground lines of communication (GLOCs) by Pakistan in protest against the NATO raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year has proved to be costly for the United States.

Transportation of one container of goods from the US to Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network costs around USD 20,000 as against USD 7,000 to USD 8,000 that went through Pakistan earlier.

While the Pentagon is trying various innovative measures to bring down the cost of this transportation, Vice Admiral Mark Harnitchek, the director of the Defence Logistics Agency, said that if the Pakistan GLOCs do not open in time before the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan begins, the Department of Defence would have no other choice but to leave a significant amount of its stuff behind - either destroy them or scrap.

"Ground movement of cargo without Pakistan is a challenge. If we do not get Pakistan back, as part of the network as the drawdown begins, that implies more extensive use of airlift than the ground routes," Harnitchek said at a breakfast meeting with Defence Writers Group in response to a question.

However, the Pentagon official said that the stock of food and fuel in Afghanistan is much more than the period when Pakistan`s ground lines of communication were open.

The US uses an alternative network of northern distribution network that is made up of ports, rail and road routes winding like "a spider web" through more than a dozen countries including Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Harnitchek said.

"It`s now substantially more expensive and also slower. We are actually flying food now," he said, adding that they do not fly fuel.

Harnitchek said the challenges before him is carrying on the enormous task of recovering equipment from Afghanistan as US troops finish their combat role there by the end of 2014, while also cutting costs and adding efficiency to meet a tighter defence budget.

As of May 15, there were 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan. By the end of September, 23,000 of those service members will withdraw.

One of the options, Harnitchek said is to shred the big machines and equipment if they are not able to transport it back. The Pentagon has shredders as big as houses, and machines that can cut a mine-resistant vehicle into 18-inch squares, he said.

"We`re doing that in probably three to four places. We can cut several hundred vehicles up a month," he said adding that they then sell the scrap.