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Undersecretary Calls Build Up in Afghanistan Critical to Success

Lisa Daniel - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2010 - The massive amount of equipment and supplies being sent to support troops in Afghanistan is a historic logistical effort critical to mission success there, the Defense Department's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics said today.

"I think it's fair to say that there's never been, like in these months that we're witnessing right now, as dramatic a logistics effort as we see in Afghanistan," Ashton B. Carter said during a conference on defense logistics modernization at The Center for Strategic and International Studies here.

From the ramp up of airlifts, sealifts and ground supply lines, to the building of forward operating bases, runways and tent cities, Carter said, the effort to build up and supply the plus up of troops in Afghanistan is critical to NATO's success there.

"I think it's one of the most important things I've ever seen in the defense world, transpiring in very, very few weeks and months, and it's a tremendous tribute to the logisticians in the Defense Department today that we're able to do that," he said.

Giving an overview of his office's work, Carter called Afghanistan "the most important logistics challenge of all."

"If you take a globe, spin a globe and say where is the last place you'd like to be fighting a war if you had your choice, other than Antarctica, you might well pick Afghanistan [for its] landlocked, very austere environment," he said.

To support the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama ordered for Afghanistan in December, the department is working to have everything in place there in the coming weeks and early summer months.

At the same time, the department is drawing down to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of August, and logisticians must determine where all of the equipment and supplies will go and how to get it there. Already they have reduced equipment in Iraq to about 2.2 million pieces, down from 3.4 million last summer, Carter said. Another 1.2 million pieces of equipment, he said, must go before the Aug. 31 deadline.

"This isn't like checking out of a hotel," he said. "This is like leaving a home that you've been in a while."

Carter spoke of the difficulty of dealing with what he called a Cold War-era acquisitions system, and why the system sometimes is bypassed to get equipment to troops quickly, such as the fast fielding last summer of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and the all-terrain MRAPs.

Carter outlined the "Catch-22s" in the acquisitions system that hold up fielding: the requirement to know how many total pieces of equipment will be needed; trying to decide whether to wait for newer-model equipment; determining if the equipment fits into long-range plans; and other factors.

"Every day that you spend trying to figure out what you need, is another day you don't get the equipment in the warfighter's hands," he said.

In the case of the MRAP, the manufacturer could produce far more than the 500 or so per month that the military could accommodate in Afghanistan, Carter said. "You can't bring the vehicles in because you don't have a place to park them," he said. "You don't have a place to park them because... you have to go to Pakistan and get concrete and truck it in. So you have to have the trucks, so you have to have the parking lot for a truck.

"And around and around and around you go," he continued. "Everything is like that in Afghanistan."

Carter determined that the MRAP manufacturer still should produce the vehicles at a rate of 1,000 per month, even if the remainder were kept in the United States for training until they could be fielded.

"We don't have to figure out everything in order to get started on anything," he said of improving the flow of equipment to warfighters. "We've always been able to support the warfighter, but it's been by 'hotwiring' the system, rather than driving down an open lane."

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