March 24, 2014 | Issue Brief on International Conflicts
After 12 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing to convince Pakistani leaders to crack down decisively on terrorist bases on their side of the border, American military planners are considering providing Pakistan with billions in leftover equipment from the war. A Washington Post story from last weekend indicates that U.S. military planners are in discussions with their Pakistani counterparts about the possibility of leaving behind, for Pakistani use, armored vehicles and other equipment deemed too expensive to ship back to the U.S.
While giving the Pakistanis U.S. military equipment, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, might make sense from a cost and logistical standpoint, the U.S. also needs to take into account the impact of such decisions on regional security dynamics. Washington should ensure that any military equipment it leaves in Pakistan does not exacerbate regional tensions. Washington should also condition the transfer of such military equipment on Islamabad’s meeting certain counterterrorism benchmarks, including cracking down on groups that are destabilizing Afghanistan, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
As the U.S. winds down military operations in Afghanistan and withdraws its troops, it must carry out a major logistical feat in shipping out, selling, or disposing of massive amounts of military equipment. The total Afghan retrograde operation is expected to cost between $5 billion and $7 billion and to involve nearly 20,000 filled shipping containers.
Because of their size and shipping costs, the U.S. must decide what to do with more than a thousand MRAP vehicles—turn them into scrap metal in Afghanistan or leave “as is” with the Pakistani military. The MRAPs were used by U.S. and NATO soldiers to protect themselves from improvised explosive devices across the country and likely saved countless lives. Each MRAP is worth about $1 million and would cost over $100,000 each to ship back to the U.S.
The U.S. is reluctant to leave the MRAPs with the Afghans, whom it assesses as incapable of operating and maintaining them. Most other countries that would like the MRAPS are unwilling to pay the high cost of shipping the roughly 20-ton vehicles, making Pakistan—which shares a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan—a more practical destination. Pakistan has expressed interest in the MRAPs for use in its fight against Pakistani Taliban insurgents. The Central Asian states that border Afghanistan may also be interested in obtaining the American leftover military hardware.
But logistical and efficiency considerations should not be the sole drivers behind U.S. decisions on what to do with the MRAPs and other military equipment from the war in Afghanistan. U.S. policymakers must also take into account the impact of their decisions on regional security dynamics.
Afghans are resentful of what they perceive as lack of U.S. focus on pressing Pakistan to crack down on Taliban insurgents on its territory, and have already expressed concern over the possibility of the bulk of the leftover equipment going to Islamabad. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi this week said his government would request that the U.S. leave the equipment with Afghan security forces, insisting that the Afghan army had the capability to use the advanced equipment.
As the U.S. debates the fate of the leftover military equipment in Afghanistan, it should:
Providing Pakistan with military equipment that the U.S. is unwilling to leave with the Afghans could send the wrong signal in the region. While it may be logistically expedient to give the MRAPs to Pakistan, the U.S. must ensure that such a decision will not negatively affect the regional security situation. There is enough uncertainty already about Afghanistan’s future because of the U.S. and NATO drawdown, and Washington must not make problems worse through hasty decisions about what to do with excess military equipment from the war.
—Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.