KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The United States is trying to sell or dispose of billions of dollars in military hardware, including sophisticated and highly specialized mine resistant vehicles as it packs up to leave Afghanistan after 13 years of war, officials said Monday.
But the efforts are complicated in a region where relations between neighboring countries are mired in suspicion and outright hostility.
A statement by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said Islamabad is interested in buying used U.S. equipment. The statement said Pakistan's request is being reviewed but any equipment it receives, including the coveted mine resistant vehicles, will not likely come from its often angry neighbor Afghanistan.
An earlier U.S. Forces statement was definite: Pakistan would not get any U.S. equipment being sold out of Afghanistan.
Mark Wright, Department of Defense spokesman, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the U.S. would like to sell to "nearby countries" the equipment that is too costly to ship back home.
Among the items for sale are 800 MRAPs, highly sophisticated Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles. Selling them off could mean a savings of as much as $500 million and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, he said. The computerized MRAPs have been used by U.S. service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, as protection against the deadly roadside bombs used relentlessly by insurgents.
According to an Associated Press count at least 2,176 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Many were killed by roadside bombs.
Still it seems certain that Afghanistan's nearest neighbor Pakistan won't be getting any of the excess 800 MRAPs that are up for sale by the departing U.S. military, although roadside bombs have been one of the deadliest weapons used by Pakistani insurgents against an estimated 170,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions that border Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Earlier this month the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford told a Pentagon briefing that Pakistan would be interested in getting MRAPs.
A statement issued on Monday by the U.S. Embassy said the U.S. is "currently reviewing" Pakistan's request for a variety of items under what the U.S. calls its "excess defense articles" — a category that includes the 800 MRAPs in Afghanistan.
Reports that Pakistan might be interested in the MRAPs raised hackles in Kabul, with the authorities saying all the equipment should stay in Afghanistan.
"We are strongly opposed to any deal in this regard without consultation with Afghanistan and we have clearly conveyed this to the U.S," Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told the AP on Monday. "It is in contradiction to the cooperative norms between strategic partners, Afghanistan and the U.S."
In a statement last week aimed at easing Kabul's concerns that no military equipment from Afghanistan would go to Pakistan, Dunford said "our commitment to the Afghan people and the Afghan National Security Forces is unwavering."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai routinely lashes out at the United States for not attacking Pakistani territory where he says insurgents waging war against his government have found a safe sanctuary.
He has said the last 12 years of war should not have been fought on Afghan territory, but rather in the areas where insurgents hide, a reference to Pakistan. Islamabad routinely denies Karzai's accusations that it aids insurgents while at the same time saying its tribal areas that border Afghanistan are infested with insurgents.
More than 4,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the protracted battle against Pakistani insurgents hiding in the tribal areas.
Wright said the United States has also been trying to dispose of $6 billion of non-military hardware — such as desks, chairs, tables and generators — ahead of the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops by the end of this year.
He said just this month the U.S. military received approval from Afghanistan's Finance Ministry to sell off the non-lethal items to Afghan vendors. However Wright also said even non-lethal items could pose a threat and as a result some of it would be destroyed and sold to Afghans as scrap.
The U.S. began selling scrapped equipment to Afghans last year and made more than $42 million.
Wright said the reason for junking the equipment first is that "many non-military items have timing equipment or other components in them that can pose a threat. For example, timers can be attached to explosives. Treadmills, stationary bikes, many household appliances and devices, have timers."
As a result they are sold as junk, which has infuriated Afghan vendors who told The Associated Press that they could make more money selling functional equipment. They also said timers are available for the equivalent of $1 making it unlikely insurgents would pay upward of $100 for a functioning treadmill just to get a timer.
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed at www.twitter.com/kathygannon