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Examining Logistics Of Deployment


And during that same hearing, senators had one other, practical question: How do we get 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and get them there fast? Well, to talk about that, we're joined by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, the president wants these troops there by the summer. What's the first step to make sure that that happens?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, the first step is identifying which troops you're going to send. And we do know that the Marines will likely be first. We know some of them will be coming from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and others from around the world. A total of 9,000 Marines will be heading over there, mostly to Helmand province. And some of their equipment, we're told, is already afloat, already heading to Afghanistan. And some of the Marines and their equipment should be arriving there in January.

NORRIS: So they got that equipment out right away.

BOWMAN: Exactly.

NORRIS: After the Marines, what happens then?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know exactly which Army units will be heading over. We're told by officials at the Pentagon, look to the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, and also the 101st Airborne, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Again, they haven't identified them yet, but we're told in the next week or so, we should know which Army units will be heading over there.

NORRIS: Curious about one thing - does the fact that these are essentially light infantry units make it easier for them to deploy?

BOWMAN: You know, it does make it easier. They don't have to send as many ships over. They don't bring tanks and large armored vehicles like Bradley fighting vehicles. But still, they have some equipment and oftentimes when you send a unit over, they'll fall into equipment of a unit they're replacing. In this case, there will be additional units heading over. There will be new units. So they'll have to bring some equipment with them, Humvees and so forth.

Here's the other thing: We're not sure where they're going to put these troops. There aren't any - there's no infrastructure to put them anywhere. They may have to bring their own tents. So packing is going to be even more of a challenge, bringing a lot more equipment so they can live someplace - out in the desert or in some combat outpost.

NORRIS: And Afghanistan is a country with very rough terrain. How do they get all that equipment into the country?

BOWMAN: Well, some of it they'll have to ship. And they'll start shipping it from the East Coast of the United States. And then they'll ship it to Karachi, Pakistan. And then it's - move it by road. It's a 700-mile trip through quite a - Pakistan to Kandahar and then if they're going to go on to Helmand province, even further away. And once you get into Afghanistan, the road structure isn't all that great. That's one problem.

Now, the other thing is some sensitive equipment - radios and so forth, communications gear - they'll move that to another port in the Middle East and then they'll will fly that stuff in. They don't want to have it moved by road and then have someone grab it. So, look for that to be flown in. But overall, for one brigade, it usually takes about two to three months to move all that stuff.

NORRIS: So they might actually get the troops and the equipment there by summer.

BOWMAN: Well, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked that today by - when he was testifying in Congress. He said they're now looking at the fall to get all those 30,000 troops in, so they're already slipping on their schedule.

NORRIS: Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.