Withdrawal Symptoms: Signs of Pullout from Iraq
Nearly one out of six American service members in Iraq, about 20,000 in all, are involved in a massive logistical operation with one overriding goal: Getting our stuff and leaving.
(Sr. Airman Christopher Hubent/USAF)
Johan Spanner writes in The New York Times today about the challenges facing the military as it sets about dismantling about 300 bases and removing 1.5 million pieces of American equipment — everything from weapons and vehicles to coffeemakers — from Iraq.
(Left: U.S. Airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron (ELRS) check the weight and balance of cargo aboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft, at Joint Base Balad, Aug. 26, 2009. Joint Base Balad, the Pentagon;s biggest aerial port operation, processes more than 950 cargo aircraft, 12,000 tons of cargo and 19,000 passengers per month.)
Six years after the U.S.-led invasion, the "largest movement of soldiers and mat?riel in more than four decades" (according to Spanner) is further complicated by continued attacks for Iraqi insurgents; consideration of what will be left behind for Iraqis; and U.S. military needs in Afghanistan.
Yet the U.S. must still maintain supplies and infrastructure for U.S. troops that remain, and will remain until at least 2011, when 50,000 troops will be stationed in an advisory capacity.
"It's a real Rubik's Cube," says Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, speaking at Joint Base Balad north of Baghdad, the withdrawal effort's command center.
And as preparations for withdrawal ramp up, they become increasingly more difficult to stall, should the situation in Iraq deteriorate.
Major troop reductions will not be happening until January, after Iraqi national elections, but the preparations for those troops' departure are happening now.
Every night, an average of 3,500 trucks roll out on sustainment and redeployment missions, and shipping containers filled with lumber, ammunition and barriers used to defend against car bombs are being hauled off — in some cases, to Afghanistan.
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