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BRUNSSUM, The Netherlands - NATO countries may temporarily send more troops to Afghanistan to pack up and ship out huge quantities of weapons and equipment as they wind down operations after more than a decade of war, a military planner said on Tuesday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Richardson also said coalition members could use other routes to ship home their equipment even if the troubled crossing through Pakistan were closed to them.
With most foreign combat troops set to withdraw by the end of 2014, NATO must send home or dispose of 200,000 shipping containers and vehicles, said Richardson, a Canadian logistics expert at a NATO command in the Dutch town of Brunssum that supports the Afghan operation.
According to some estimates, more than $60 billion worth of equipment needs to be pulled out while soldiers continue operations against Taliban insurgents in a war that shows no sign of abating.
While the total number of foreign troops is falling as they gradually turn over security to Afghan forces, Richardson said the job of cleaning, packing and shipping equipment may lead some countries to send in more soldiers temporarily.
"Experience has shown us that for many of the troop-contributing nations, their troop levels will actually experience a slight increase as they bring in extra forces to prepare their equipment for redeployment," Richardson told reporters during a briefing at Brunssum.
NATO forces are expected to use a mixture of air, land and sea routes to ship home equipment and they are not completely dependent on transit through Pakistan, he said.
Pakistan banned trucks from carrying supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan for seven months in protest at a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
The route reopened in July after the United States said "sorry" for the deaths but US-Pakistan ties remain difficult.
"Would all the nations prefer to have the Pakistan option available? Yes. Can we redeploy without it? Yes. We do have other options," Richardson said.
NATO has secured transit deals with three Central Asian states, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and with Russia.
The task of sending home unwanted kit has already begun, with cargo planes flying supplies into Afghanistan now being loaded up with surplus gear for the return leg, Richardson said.
NATO members draw up their own plans for shipping out gear but the alliance coordinates them "to make sure they are not all trying to use the same routes at the same time", he said.
Some frontline combat troops have complained that the rollback from bases across Afghanistan and packing up of military equipment was disrupting operations against insurgents, but US Major-General Joseph Reynes, director of operations at Brunssum, denied this was the case.
"There is no conflict with operational activities," he said.
Richardson said all "sensitive equipment", such as weapons, ammunition and communications devices, would be shipped out by air as it was the most secure method.