Afghans Want To Charge U.S. For Removing Military Gear
In what may be the most bizarre twist in the United States’ withdrawal from the Afghanistan War, the removal of American military equipment is being held up by a bureaucratic dispute based in the Afghan’s attempt to charge the U.S. for equipment removed from the country:
An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders, forcing commanders to rely more heavily on air transport, which has dramatically increased the cost of the drawdown, according to military officials.
The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.
If left unresolved, the disagreement could inflate the price tag of the U.S. military drawdown by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars because of the higher cost of shipping by air — an unwelcome expenditure at a time when the Pentagon is scrambling to cope with steep congressionally mandated budget cuts and the White House is attempting to jump-start negotiations over a long-term security cooperation deal with Kabul.
The Afghan government’s demand for payment is part of a broader dispute over Kabul’s authority to tax entities from the United States, its chief benefactor. As the war economy that for years bankrolled Afghanistan’s political elite starts to deflate, the government is increasingly insisting that U.S. defense contractors pay business taxes and fines for a range of alleged violations.
The latest fight has added a new irritant to negotiations over a bilateral security agreement that will address the possibility of a residual U.S. military force in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO combat mission formally concludes. Washington and Kabul remain at odds over several details of the security deal, including the types of taxes and customs fees that would be imposed on the force and its contractors.
I must admit to being as confused about this as Kevin Drum. We invaded Afghanistan, arguably liberating them from the grip of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. We’ve spent ten years or so fighting to protect the government of Hamid Karzai from those same forces. And now they want to charge us to leave? Surely, this is a first, isn’t it? On the other hand, I can see a benefit here. If we knew going into a war that we’d have to pay money to get out at the end perhaps we’d be less willing to start it.