Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Base Closing Nostalgia

This piece addresses one of the key challenges facing the US in Afghanistan--getting our crap out of the country.  Given the lack of ports, the need to either cross Pakistan or heaps of former Soviet space, and given the lack of time, this will get pretty interesting.  In Iraq, the US had dangerous roads but they led to Kuwait, where stuff could be put on ships quite easily. 

Canada has already experienced the challenges of this on a much smaller scale--for a force of 3k vs. the current American force of 66k.  The Canadian problem became Pakistan---that stuff was stuck on the border in cans (containers for those who missed the second season of the Wire) as Pakistan closed the border for a while (well, sort of, they closed to shipments of NATO material, not so much to Taliban/Haqqani folks). 

Anyhow, this got me thinking--logistics is not just logistics but politics.  When the US was closing bases in Bosnia in 2002 as its contingent was getting smaller, it had an opportunity: the bases were desired by the Bosnians for their militaries.  Yes, militaries since at the time there was still the challenge of unifying the Bosnian armies--the Bosnian Croatian military, the Bosnian Muslim military and the Bosnian Serb army.  The idea in the US interagency (that would be the bureaucracy) became--hey, let's offer the use of our old bases if they were used for joint efforts.  Sounds good.  But it ran into a big barrier--the US Army felt very strongly about its obligation to Congress to recoup all of the investments and ship everything that it could back to the US.  Which meant that the carrot would not be bases with buildings and fences and air conditions but concrete pads where the buildings used to be. 

And who won this interagency battle with the Joint Staff, State, and even the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the same side (if I recall correctly, a rare moment where OSD was functional) versus the Army?  The Army did.

So, do not expect the US to leave much behind, even if it made sense to let the Afghans inherit the US bases.  Congress, apparently, is a cruel mistress/accountant, so the Army (and Navy and Air Force) will be focused on sending home whatever it can.

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