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Courtney eyes surplus equipment during Afghanistan trip

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published April 24. 2013 4:00AM
Congressman tours Afghanistan, sees evidence of impending withdrawal

In Afghanistan this weekend, Congressman Joe Courtney said he saw billions of dollars of equipment already packed and ready to be shipped home.

Inside a Kabul storage depot, Courtney said, there was a massive parking area lined with Stryker vehicles, Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.

An incredible variety of equipment has accumulated in Afghanistan over the course of the 12-year war, Courtney, D-2nd District, said. And, he added, the stockpile includes equipment the military no longer needs - equipment that financially strapped state and local governments, National Guard units and police departments would love to have.

The military isn't going to part with its expensive combat vehicles, he said, but many other things could become available, from firetrucks and air conditioners to communications equipment, engine parts and tents.

As part of a three-day trip to Afghanistan with four other representatives on the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Budget Committee, Courtney toured the depot where equipment is sent as forward operating bases close or transfer to the Afghan forces. Courtney has now been to Afghanistan four times since being elected to the House in 2006.

After the war in Iraq ended, officials in state and local governments could ask the Pentagon to send them supplies the military didn't need anymore. But, Courtney said, there wasn't a system in place for these officials to find out what was available.

The House Armed Services Committee will begin working on its version of the defense authorization act next month. Courtney said language could be added to the bill to set up a better system for distributing equipment, so Connecticut and other states can benefit from the surplus. He said he envisions a searchable website, similar to the current site that lists available federal grants.

"It's not like you can pull up the classified ads section and see what the Pentagon has," he said. "That's where we should focus, in terms of helping state and local governments and the National Guard get the best information about what's coming back. They're doing incredibly painstaking work going through the depot, boxing stuff up and making meticulous records. The question is, what is going to happen to all of that?"

The depot, Courtney said, was "powerful evidence" that control of Afghanistan is shifting to the Afghans.

Courtney and the delegation also visited Bagram Airfield and met with a group that works to counter improvised explosive devises. The methods developed overseas were used to ensure the area near the Boston Marathon finish line was clear after two bombs detonated there, Courtney said.

"The folks there felt extremely connected to the efforts of the police in Boston," he said.

The group traveled to Kandahar, which has been a hotbed of insurgent activity in Afghanistan. Kandahar is significantly calmer since the surge of U.S. troops there, and the transfer of responsibility is almost complete, Courtney said.

Some of the soldiers, however, did say they were concerned about the recent attacks on U.S. forces by members of the Afghan forces, he added. Army Capt. Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel of Madison was killed in March by a member of the Afghan National Police, according to the governor's office.

Courtney said the best protection for U.S. forces may be the change in their role, from partners in the field to now trainers, since they will be less exposed. President Barack Obama has said that most troops would be home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Before leaving the region, Courtney visited Navy and Coast Guard units in Bahrain. The leaders in the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain are grappling with the cancellation of an aircraft carrier deployment to the region because of the automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, but they spoke highly of the submarine force's role in countering the buildup of the Iranian submarine fleet and the Coast Guard's efforts to patrol the Gulf, Courtney said.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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