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As Iraq pullout progresses, U.S. keeps troops numbers high to provide 'flexibility'

WASHINGTON – Despite reports that the Iraq government had requested about 5,000 U.S. troops remain as trainers, U.S. Forces-Iraq remains on track to be out of the country by the end of the year, USF-I spokesman Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said Wednesday.

Nearly 14,000 truck shipments have carried equipment out of Iraq in recent days, he said. Meanwhile, old civilian gear such as trucks and generators deemed not worth keeping is being transferred to the Iraqi government, a practice that has saved the United State $600 million dollars in shipping costs, Buchanan said.

Speaking by video uplink from Iraq, Buchanan told reporters that at last count, about 41,000 troops remained on 23 bases around the country. There were 92 bases at the start of Operation New Dawn in September 2010, but the number has been falling rapidly through 2011 – down about 20 in the last two months. Meanwhile, the number of troops has remained relatively constant to provide “maximum flexibility,” Buchanan said.

Though careful planning has forestalled serious logistical or operational problems as troops pack into fewer bases, he said, “we do anticipate bumps along the road.”

Flexibility entails the ability of USF-I to carry out security and other operations, but it also means having troops on hand should the United States and Iraq reach an agreement to leave troops in the country, he said.

“Based on that we kept our troop numbers high, or steady at least through the bulk of this year,” he said. But he declined to comment on the progress of the negotiations, which have centered in recent weeks on whether U.S. troops who might remain in Iraq would be subject to the Iraqi justice system.

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