By Carlo Muñoz - 03/25/13 08:58 PM EDT
It will cost the Pentagon roughly $6 billion to move the mountain of weapons, vehicles and equipment out of Afghanistan and back to the United States in time to meet the White House's 2014 drawdown deadline, according to U.S. commanders in country.
That massive bill includes the cost of breaking down over 30,000 combat vehicles across Afghanistan and loading that material into nearly 100,000 shipping containers over the next year, combat commanders told The Guardian on Monday.
"We're hearing about $6 [billion] in transportation costs," Brig. Gen. Steve Shapiro, who is leading the effort for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, told The Guardian.
Initial shipments of American supplies and equipment have already begun their slow journey out of Afghanistan to the United States.
More than 50 containers loaded down with U.S. weapons and material began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in February, marking the beginning of the logistical piece of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.
That month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised several red flags about how U.S. forces are carrying out the withdrawal.
GAO analysts noted that in spite of the department's attempt to kick the withdrawal effort into overdrive, DOD officials have yet to fully account for how much it will cost to get the mountain of metal in Afghanistan out of the country by 2014.
At the time, GAO predicted that DOD costs could range between $8,000 to in excess of $150,000 per container of equipment moving through supply lines in Pakistan
Analysts also criticized U.S. military planners for not taking full advantage of those lessons learned from the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, failing to account for critical supply chain capabilities that could ease the U.S. transition out of Afghanistan.
But the ongoing effort to leave Afghanistan is much more complex than the previous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011.
While American and NATO commanders are working to meet the 2014 deadline, they are also weighing how much equipment and weapons to leave for the 66,000 American troops still fighting in the country.
More than half of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan are scheduled to begin rotating back to the U.S. this spring, in preparation for the White House's 2014 deadline to have all U.S. combat troops out of the country.
The remaining 32,000 U.S. forces in the country will begin their final drawdown after next April's presidential elections, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told NATO leaders in February at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
"I can't have a pile of equipment here building up. You need a steady, even flow through the system," Col. Mark Paget, commander of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, said comparing the current withdrawal effort to the one in Iraq.
Paget's unit is responsible for breaking down and shipping out all the vehicles and equipment stationed at Bagram Air Force Base.
With roughly a year to go before America's war in Afghanistan is over, "you don't have the space to make big mistakes," he said.