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U.S. Transportation Command has the resources now to get American assets out of Afghanistan, but that might not last, the general in charge of the command said Wednesday.
Gen. William Fraser said that while budget uncertainty will have unforeseen effects under both the mandatory cuts that went into effect last week and the possibility of another continuing resolution, he "is confident that we have what we need right now."
TRANSCOM is preparing to bring half of the 68,000 troops in Afghanistan home within a year, along with the hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo required to drawn down the U.S. presence.
While mandatory budget cuts are going into effect across the board, the Defense Department has released direction to ensure that there is enough funding and assets available for the drawdown, Fraser said.
The retrograde will go across a network including airlift, sealift and ground networks. The command has said that 35 to 45 percent of the cargo will leave by air and sea, with the rest going by ground by either road or rail. The command has requested 5,000 flat-rail cars to carry Army vehicles, Fraser said.
Additionally, officials are planning to use roads through neighboring Pakistan that have been unreliable and dangerous. Fraser said he traveled to Pakistan last month and is confident in that country's willingness to assist.
"Everything seems to be moving in the right direction," he said.
As the security situation changes in Afghanistan, more airfields can be open to private companies to help with the enormous task of bring troops and equipment home. While no additional airfields are open to private passenger aircraft yet, private cargo planes have been able to operate out of more remote air fields, Fraser said.
The command is taking other steps to cut back on costs, including working with Air Mobility Command to change its approach to transporting fuel. Aircraft typically fly with just enough fuel to reach their destination, as a way to save weight. However, now the command is working with crews to fly heavier into places such as Afghanistan so they do not need to refuel in country, a move that is saving millions, Fraser said. These types of changes during times of budget uncertainty could save money that could be put toward maintaining troop readiness, he said.
"We have to work together in the future with all the services and other agencies to maintain that capability and capacity at the right readiness level," Fraser said, "because we don't know when that next call is going to come."