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Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province Afghanistan January 27 2013Hundreds of containers full of equipment are stacked in the yards of Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province. Since July 2012, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been working to ship containers off of the base, reducing the number from more than 8,000 to 5,000 in January 2013.
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The following photographs were taken in late January, 2013. Hundreds of containers full of equipment are stacked in the yards of Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province. Since July 2012, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been working to ship containers off of the base, reducing the number from more than 8,000 to 5,000 in Feb. 2013.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province Afghanistan January 27 2013Hundreds of containers full of equipment are stacked in the yards of Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province. Since July 2012, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been working to ship containers off of the base, reducing the number from more than 8,000 to 5,000 in January 2013.
Bagram Afghanistan January 29 2013 Military equipment brought in from bases in eastern Afghanistan awaits sorting at a yard on Bagram Airbase. With a final timeline in place to have most U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, military commanders have focused on retrograde operations, the logistical mission of sorting, consolidating and moving equipment out of the country that has accumulated during the eleven years of American combat operations.
Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan Afghanistan January 24 2013 Paratroopers from 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, pack their gear in preparation to load containers at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. The soldiers' gear will be shipped to their home base in Germany before they depart Afghanistan next month.
Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan January 24 2013Paratroopers from Bull Battery, 1-319th Field Artillery Battalion line up for their final unit photo before leaving Afghanistan for their home base in Germany. The traditional unit picture is often one of the last events before soldiers leave a combat zone. Bull Battery has served a nine-month combat tour in eastern Afghanistan.
Bagram Afghanistan January 31 2013Rows of armored combat vehicles are staged in a yard at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan, waiting for shipment back to the United States. Logistics units at Bagram can ship nearly 500 vehicles every month. Within two weeks, they say, this yard will have been emptied and refilled with more vehicles awaiting shipment home. With most U.S. forces set to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, retrograde, the military’s term for the removal of combat equipment from the country, has become a top mission.
Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan January 24 2013A soldier from Bull Battery, 1-319th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion loads concrete blocks on a truck in preparation for leaving Forward Operating Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. Bull Battery is returning to their base in Germany after a nine-month tour in eastern Afghanistan.
Bagram Afghanistan January 31 2013 An airman climbs aboard a C-17 cargo aircraft at Bagram Airbase in eastern Afghanistan while loading an armored vehicle and trailer for a flight out of the country. During the winter months, when snow closes some key routes out of the country, the U.S. military ships nearly 70 percent of the equipment leaving the country by air, both through civilian contractors and Air Force cargo flights.
Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan January 24 2013 ( from L to R)Private First Class YuanYun Fang, 19, Private First Class Kyle Womack, 19 and Private First Class Tyler Luscan, 20, at Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. The soldiers, members of Bull Battery, 1-319 Airborne Field Artillery Battalion, all joined the Army less than two weeks after finishing high school and have served a nine-month combat tour together in eastern Afghanistan. Location: Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan
Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan January 25 2013 Paratroopers from 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment lift weights in the gym at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. The soldiers are moving equipment from FOB Altimur to larger bases in preparation to hand the base over to Afghan forces next month.
Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province Afghanistan January 23 2013Hundreds of containers full of equipment are stacked in the yards of Forward Operating Base Shank, the logistical hub for American operations in Logar Province. Since July 2012, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been working to ship containers off of the base, reducing the number from more than 8,000 to 5,000 in January 2013.
Bagram Afghanistan January 28 2013 Frst Lieut. Henry Chan of the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion opens containers to find out what is inside at a container yard on Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. With most U.S. forces set to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, retrograde, the military’s term for the removal of combat equipment from the country, has become a top mission.
Forward Operating Base Ultimur, Logar Province, AfghanistanJanuary 24 2013A soldier from Bull Battery, 1-319th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion unloads scrap metal from containers in preparation for leaving Forward Operating Ultimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. Bull Battery is returning to their base in Germany after a nine-month tour in eastern Afghanistan.
Forward Operating Base Altimur Afghanistan January 24 2013 Ali Khan, a Pashtun Afghan from Gardez, drives his truck on Forward Operating Base Altimur after paratroopers from 4-319 Airborne Field Artillery Battalion loaded it up with equipment. The American soldiers are moving equipment to larger bases in preparation to turn FOB Altimur over to the Afghan forces in February.
Bagram Afghanistan January 31 2013 Civilian contractors work to drain a large puddle following a January rain at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. The yard holds armored combat vehicles that have been inspected and processed in preparation for shipment ot the United States. With most U.S. forces set to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, retrograde, the military’s term for the removal of combat equipment from the country, has become a top mission
Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan January 24 2013 Sgt. Mario Diaz, 32, a communications specialist from Ridgeland, Miss., at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Logar Province, Afghanistan. Diaz and paratroopers from the 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment are moving all American equipment to larger bases in preparation to turn FOB Altimur over to the Afghan forces in February.
Bagram Afghanistan January 26 2013 The perimeter of Forward Operating Shank in Logar Province, Afghanistan. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is completing a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, has been tasked with sorting and moving much of the equipment that has accumulated during eleven years of American and ISAF operations. The base will be handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces later this year.
Bagram Afghanistan January 29 2013 Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division board onto a C-17 Globemaster that will take them from Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan to Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The troops, who have completed combat tours in easter Afghanistan, will then be flown back to the United States.
Bagram Afghanistan January 30 2013 Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division await takeoff of a C-17 Globemaster that will take them from Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan to Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The troops, who have completed combat tours in easter Afghanistan, will then be flown back to the United States.
The following photographs were taken in late January, 2013. Hundreds of containers full of equipment are stacked in the
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Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
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America’s Long Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Photographs by Yuri Kozyrev

Mar 07, 2013

In the months leading up to the Normandy Invasion in the late spring of 1944, the U.S. shipped 1.6 million troops and 17 million tons of cargo to staging areas in the United Kingdom. If the numbers weren’t mind boggling enough, to reach the British Isles, the troops and cargo had to cross the Atlantic under threat of being sunk by German U Boats. That buildup was just one of untold numbers of logistical feats during that enormous war, one chapter in an ongoing legacy of remarkable exploits that extends to the retrograde, the military’s term for bringing all of our equipment home from Afghanistan.

For many good reasons, Afghanistan has been called a logistician’s nightmare. It is landlocked and far from a working port. Much of the country – especially in the east where a great deal of the fighting has taken place – is covered with mountains and threaded by decades-old roads and questionable bridges. The easiest way in and out of the country is a geopolitical minefield and the other two routes are three times as expensive.

And yet, for twelve years, logisticians have supplied troops with the equipment — large and small — necessary to fight a war. They have airdropped pallets of food and repair parts on remote bases, tossed “Speedballs” — body bags filled with ammunition and water — out of helicopters to troops under fire. And along the way, extra equipment has piled up at bases around Afghanistan. According to a December 2012 report to Congress by the by the Government Accountability Office, there is the equivalent of more than 90,000 twenty-foot containers of equipment all over Afghanistan. All together, there is $36 billion worth of vehicles, weapons systems, repair parts and utter junk scattered throughout the country, and bringing it home will cost an estimated $5.7 billion.

Last month, I traveled to eastern Afghanistan with TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev to document how the American military will bring all of that stuff home from Afghanistan. The journey began at Forward Operating Base Altimur, a scrap of land at on a slope above a desert floor, deep in Logar Province. There, the paratroopers of Bull Battery, 173rd Airborne Brigade were busy tearing down much of the base. We met hardened veterans like Sgt. Mario Diaz, who was serving his third tour in Afghanistan and the second at FOB Altimur, which has both been his sanctuary from fighting and the site of some of the most difficult times in his 32 years. There were three privates on their first combat tour who were in third grade when the war began. They all joined up within two weeks of graduating from high school and met each other just before shipping out to Afghanistan.

When the troops are done packing their equipment, the destination for much of the gear is one of the yards at Bagram Airfield, the largest base in eastern Afghanistan. A quick drive around Bagram and you’ll see yard after yard of twenty and forty foot container stacked two high, vehicles that cost $570,000 each lined up by the hundreds waiting to be washed four times before they can be shipped home. Then at the end of the line, especially in the winter months when most of the equipment leaves Afghanistan by air, the Port Dogs of the 455th Expeditionary Airwing load cargo planes with trucks weighing a dozen tons and pallets weighing 10,000 pounds that the push onto the airplanes by hand.

Along the way, there are troops who sort and separate, update records and pack containers. Most of the equipment will come back to the U.S. for repairs and refitting for use in future training. Much of it will be staged at bases around the world, waiting at the ready for the next unseen war. Logisticians have been moving thousands of people and tons of supplies under horrendous conditions since war began. The retrograde from Afghanistan is an enormous challenge, one that will likely be studied decades from now when logisticians have to make similar magic happen again. “The numbers look intimidating, but we're a big organization,” says Brigadier Felix Gedney, a British exchange officer serving as deputy commanding general for transition in the 1st Infantry Division. “It's in the art of the possible that it's achievable."

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

Nate Rawlings is a reporter for TIME. He writes for the magazine’s Briefing section and about politics, government and military affairs for TIME.com.

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