WASHINGTON - Moving the mountain of US military gear out of Afghanistan after more than a decade of war will cost billions of dollars and prove far more difficult than last year’s withdrawal from Iraq, reported Stars and Stripes Tuesday quoting the Pentagon’s No 2 official. Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s point man for overseeing the drawdown in Afghanistan, talked about the challenges in his first extensive interview on pulling out of Afghanistan.

The pace of withdrawal is picking up: About 20,000 US servicemembers and their gear will be coming home by October. There are about 88,000 American servicemembers there now. All US combat forces are to leave by 2014. Meanwhile, the main overland supply route through neighbouring Pakistan reopened last week. It had been closed since November after US forces killed 24 Pakistani troops on the border. “It’s a very austere logistics environment to transport anything,” Carter said. “Combat is still going on. Terrible terrain. Narrow roads. Long way to a seaport. Afghanistan is more challenging for ...(withdrawal) than was Iraq.” In Iraq, the military essentially loaded up trucks, drove south a few hundred miles to Kuwait and shipped them home. This year, the Pentagon asked for $2.9 billion to pay for repairing and replacing equipment removed last year. Landlocked Afghanistan requires a 1,000-mile drive on rough, dangerous road to the port in Karachi, Pakistan. So far, just a trickle of trucks has moved through the two Pakistani border crossings - five trucks in the north, and nine in the south, Carter said. It will take as long as three months for traffic to flow freely through Pakistan there, he said. Even so, that is the best option. Flying equipment out, or using the long, overland route through nations to the north, has added as much as $100 million a month in transportation costs, he said.