The age old adage about war–attributed to Napoleon himself–is that an army travels on its stomach. Even the smallest wars are massive undertakings requiring food, shelter, and the myriad equipment required to wage the fight itself, and modern wars have become giant logistical enterprises where combat is is only one part of the equation. During the Iraq War, the proportion of combat soldiers to support troops–what is known as the “Tooth to Tail Ratio“–was at least three support troops for every combat soldier (some studies put the ratio of support soldiers to those who regularly fought and patrolled at seven to one).
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, by far the largest part of the support operation was logistics, moving thousands of tons of equipment into and around the country. For the first decade of the war in Afghanistan commanders stockpiled equipment, and only late last year, with the deadline to leave looming just over the horizon, did they shift the focus to moving it out. But first everything needs to be sorted into what the military must keep, what they can give away or sell to the Afghans and what must be destroyed.
Last January, TIME reported on a unit tasked with organizing equipment from thousands of containers at a mid-sized base in Logar Province. This year, similar units have crushed vehicles and structures into 387 million pounds of scrap,which was sold to Afghans for $46.5 million according to a recent AP report. Coalition forces have also handed over $71 million worth of equipment.
For many Afghans, the junk that gets left behind could be a treasure, or it could just be unusable stuff that must be hauled away. The sorting and moving will continue until the end of 2014, when the vast majority of foreign forces–and the things they brought with them–will be gone. – Nate Rawlings