The U.S. military is scrapping up to 2,000 of its mine-resistant vehicles, which cost $1 million each

June 20, 2013

U.S. military contract workers tear apart an armored vehicle that is among the hundreds of such personnel carriers the Pentagon no longer has use for. (Ernesto Londono/The Washington Post)

It was a very different world for the U.S. military in 2007, when the Pentagon rolled out its first Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles. Known as MRAPs, the expensive, heavy-duty four-wheelers were meant to protect American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from roadside bombs, a high-tech answer to a low-tech adversary. In those days, the military practically had a blank check, few ideas were too ambitious for aiding the war effort and, more to the point, investing in protracted combat against Middle Eastern insurgents seemed like a safe bet.

Today, the U.S. military is largely gone from Iraq and is preparing to leave not just Afghanistan but the perhaps the business of Middle Eastern ground wars entirely. But getting the MRAPs out of the land-locked Afghan war zone is difficult and expensive. So, six years after launching a program that's cost almost $50 billion in total and about $1 million per vehicle, the United States military is quietly chopping up as many as 2,000 MRAPs into scrap metal, The Washington Post's Ernesto Londoño reports. He actually got to see it happening: The above photo shows the sophisticated MRAPs being reduced to scrap.

That's right: The Pentagon is destroying its own military hardware, worth up to $2 billion. It's not because the vehicles are old or don't work – they're relatively new and appear to work well. The cost of moving them is just not worth the expense. And, maybe more than that, the United States doesn't see itself as needing every single one of the 24,000 MRAPs designed for combat over sprawling, difficult terrain against bomb-making insurgents. That's not really a mission the country is investing in anymore.

The U.S. Army alone, according to Londoño's report, has about $25 billion in military equipment sitting in Afghanistan right now. Most of that has to come out when the Americans depart. But the Army has only decided to ship back 76 percent of its stuff, which will cost $2 to $3 billion just in transportation and another $8 to $9 billion to repair it. The rest, including the 2,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan labeled as "excess," cost $7 billion but aren't worth shipping home or even to other overseas U.S. bases, and are unlikely to find buyers. They are, as far as the United States military is concerned, waste.

The decision to turn these jaw-droppingly expensive vehicles into scrap metal reflects, Londoño points out, "a presumptive end to an era of protracted ground wars." It's hard to miss the symbolism: This military tool, which cost billions to design and was launched to great fanfare just a few years ago as the perfect tool for America's mission in Afghanistan, is just not as useful anymore. That's not just a sign of how expensive it is to ship stuff out of Afghanistan, it's a reminder of how radically America's long-term interests have changed in the past six years.

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Max Fisher | June 20, 2013