U.S. draws down amid Iraqi political turmoil
Stars and Stripes
Even as political turmoil continues to grip Baghdad seven weeks after inconclusive parliamentary elections, the U.S. military already has begun pulling out of dozens of bases ahead of a summer-long troop reduction.
By September, the military says, 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq at 96 bases, down from 96,000 at 225 bases in January.
Officials have described the withdrawal, which the military has dubbed a "responsible drawdown," as among the most difficult logistical operations in U.S. history.
Even in microcosm, it’s a complicated process. At Forward Operating Base Summerall in northern Iraq, soldiers spent months sorting and turning in equipment accumulated over a seven-year military presence. In all, they returned about $20 million in goods to the Army supply system.
Useful gear is shopped around to units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several dozen armored vehicles and helicopters have been shipped from northern Iraq directly to Afghanistan, either through Kuwait or via a complicated, seven-country route through Turkey, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. The greatest demand has been for all-terrain Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, especially ones outfitted as ambulances.
If no other American unit claims a piece of equipment at a base that is closing down, the equipment can be turned over to the Iraqi government. Under law, U.S. units can leave up to $30 million in equipment per base. At the smaller bases being closed down so far, officials say the tally rarely approaches that figure.
At Summerall, the Iraqis were left with about $2 million in equipment, including 438 housing units, 18 shower trailers, 21 generators and 1,077 air conditioners.
The pace of base closures is expected to build over the coming months. Of the 54 U.S. bases in northern Iraq a few months ago, just eight will remain under full U.S. control by September.
Small contingents of American troops will also remain at 19 other bases nominally under Iraqi control. The military formerly referred to those posts as "tenancy bases" but has lately preferred "partnered bases."