KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – It was nearly 2 a.m. when U.S. Army Pfc. Zach Randle jumped out of his bulky armored vehicle in southern Afghanistan for what he hoped would be the last time. “I don’t want to see it again. It’s been through a lot,” Randle said of the 19-ton vehicle that was his ride – and sometimes his bed – during a six-month deployment to volatile Kandahar province.
“It protected us, but I’m just in a hurry to turn it in to be closer to going home,” said Randle, who has now left Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops by Sept. 30. The pullout – 10,000 last year and 23,000 more this year – will be finished within days. That will leave 68,000 American troops in this country to fight militants and help prepare Afghan forces to take over security nationwide.
While some service members go home, others are busy preparing thousands of vehicles and other equipment for shipment. It’s a laborious task that’s more difficult than it was in Iraq because of landlocked Afghanistan’s tough mountainous terrain, lack of roads and its mountain passes that will soon be covered with snow.
Between now and the end of 2014, when most U.S. troops will have left, the Americans will move an estimated 50,000 vehicles, including tens of thousands of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles like the one Randle drove into the equipment yard. They’ll also ship an estimated 100,000 metal containers – each about 20 feet long. End-to-end, the containers would stretch nearly 400 miles.