Logistics will dictate troop withdrawal from Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 9 months ago

The recent elections in the U.S. demonstrate, among other things, the basic inability of much of the population to ask even the most basic, probative questions. President-elect Obama ran on a platform of “ending this war” (referring to Iraq), but even moderately informed listeners might have asked the question, “what war?” There is no war in Iraq. There once was war in Iraq, and it became a counterinsurgency campaign, and is a currently peacekeeping, training and reconstruction operation.

As for the claim that the troops will be brought home, the President-elect has much less control over the means to deliver that promise than he might wish. The logistics of deployment are extremely complicated and manpower and budget intensive, and redeployment back to the States is likely to be even more difficult.

The reality is that it’s difficult to get out fast. It took the Soviets nine months to pull 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan. They were simply going next door, and they still lost more than 500 men on the way out. Pulling out 10 combat brigades — roughly 30,000 troops, along with their gear and support personnel — would take at least 10 months, Pentagon officials say. And that’s only part of the picture. There are civilians who would probably want to head for the exit when GIs started packing. They include some 50,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis who might need protection if we left the country.

Slowing things down further is the sheer volume of stuff that we would have to take with us — or destroy if we couldn’t. Military officials recently told Congress that 45,000 ground-combat vehicles — a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees — are now in Iraq. They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. These items have to be taken back home or destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of one faction or another. Pentagon officials will try to bring back as much of the downtime gear as possible — dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters. William (Gus) Pagonis, the Army logistics chief who directed the flood of supplies to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Gulf War and their orderly withdrawal from the region, cites one more often overlooked hurdle: U.S. agricultural inspectors insist that, before it re-enters the U.S., Army equipment be free of any microscopic disease that, as Pagonis puts it, “can wipe out flocks of chickens and stuff like that.”

The most recent estimates have hinted at 18 months to two years redeploy the troops either stateside or to Afghanistan, remarkably about the same duration as the yet-to-be-approved Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S, and Iraq which governs U.S. troop presence in Iraq through the year 2011. Obama’s promises notwithstanding, logistics officers rule. They will dictate when and how fast we withdraw from Iraq.

There are other promises (or at least, demands) that, now that the President-elect is in the position where he must deliver on them, might not prove so easy as merely mentioning them in a stump speech. As for more NATO troops for Afghanistan, Canada, at least, will say no in the future to any extension of commitment. “Canada’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Canada won’t remain in Afghanistan beyond its 2011 commitment even if Barack Obama, the U.S. president-elect, asks for an extension.”

John Adams said that facts are stubborn things. Just so. So too are promises.

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You are currently reading "Logistics will dictate troop withdrawal from Iraq", entry #1498 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Iraq,Iraq SOFA,Logistics and was published November 7th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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