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    Middle East
     Dec 9, 2005
The daunting logistics of withdrawal
By David Isenberg

Almost no consideration has been given to the question of just how fast the US can remove its forces from Iraq. But one can bet that logisticians in the Pentagon and Central Command planning cells have already been working on that question for some time

Military officers have a saying: "Amateurs talk about strategy, dilettantes talk about tactics, and professionals talk about logistics."

On the plus side, the US military is experienced in moving forces out of the Persian Gulf region. In 1991 it was able to bring back

from Kuwait to the US and Europe almost all of its over half million forces in a matter of months. Since then US military infrastructure has improved.

Additionally, since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US forces have undergone three rotations into Iraq (the last one taking place from March to July this year) and are preparing for a fourth. They have lots of experience in moving troops and equipment, in divisionsize formations, out of Iraq.

This time, however, the US would not be using the excellent ports and airfields in Saudi Arabia that it had access to in 1991. Nor were US troops battling an organized and deadly insurgency

Bear in mind that the number of troops in the Iraqi theater includes those in adjoining and nearby countries. According to the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "The US occupation forces in the Iraqi theater has required about 16 to 18 combat brigades, or 160,000 to 180,000 personnel." From the viewpoint of being able to sustain US forces in Iraq, a withdrawal can't come soon enough. According to the CBO, the US military can sustain 67,000 to 106,000 personnel in Iraq over the long term.

Another difference is that to a far greater degree than was the case in 1991, the US military has outsourced its logistics functions to the private sector. Companies like Halliburton and its Kellog, Brown and Root subsidiary will have to coordinate with the military to an unprecedented degree, through the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), which Halliburton was re-awarded in 2001.

US forces will also have to assist allied military forces in redeploying their forces.

Just getting troops to an embarkation point will be challenging. An article earlier this year in Army Logistician noted, "During Operation Iraqi Freedom II, thousands of vehicles traveled over the dangerous roads of Iraq daily to transport supplies to more than 20,000 soldiers at 28 forward operating bases (FOBs). These FOBs were geographically dispersed over an area of 146,000 square kilometers in the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) area of operations (AO)."

According to Chris Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Washington, DC-based Cato Institute, "The rule of thumb is three to four months to physically withdraw the troops. This assumes an orderly withdrawal, no one under fire. Maintaining an over-the-horizon presence makes the problem only slightly less onerous, as we have substantial bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman."

Another consideration for military planners concerned with the availability of military forces for the overall global "war on terror" is that every unit redeployed from Iraq is essentially off limits as US military policy calls for standing down returning units so the troops can reunite with their families and undergo retraining as well as refurbishing and replacing worn out equipment.

US military goals call for deploying only one-third of the active combat force at any one time, allowing units to spend two years in garrison for every one year deployed.

The minutiae of logistical dos and don'ts can range from the major, such as mobilizing the required air and sea lift to the minor. For example, all vehicles have to be washed off before being transported. And one can't just run one's M1A1 battle tank through the local car wash.

According to John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Virginia, "All equipment has to be washed off first. Then it would have to go through Kuwait, which has only a finite amount of wash rack capacity."

Pike thinks that "10% of force structure can be withdrawn a month. One variable is whether equipment is being swapped or just withdrawn."

Another consideration is what to do with all the military bases that the US has built in Iraq. According to GlobalSecurity's web site, during the occupation the US has built at least 261 camps, forward operating bases and other facilities in Iraq. While many of them have no doubt been abandoned or destroyed as troops have shifted their locations or redeployed, it is still a huge number.

According to Pike, "Many US bases are already being turned over to the Iraqi government. Some of the ones the US is getting rid of have community encroachment issues." This means the surrounding community is too close from a force protection viewpoint.

"The big problem," says Pike "is that we have created an Iraqi security force with too much tooth and not enough tail. Currently, they depend on US forces for their logistical support. The US needs to put into place an organization that has sufficient honesty to keep Iraqi forces from being stolen blind."

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) consist of four elements: the Iraqi National Guard, the Iraqi Security Police, the Department of Border Patrol and the Facilities Protection Services. Most of their equipment consists of weapons the recruits themselves furnished and vehicles they confiscated.

This presented several challenges to the ISF leaders. Another article in Army Logistician noted, "First, they had no way to determine combat power. The commanders had difficulty determining which units were prepared for security operations and which were not. Because its members brought varying amounts of equipment to the ISF, some units were well equipped and others had very little equipment on hand.

"This created an extremely difficult environment for commanders at all levels. Second, the United States was in the process of purchasing large quantities of equipment for the ISF. Without a good understanding of individual unit equipment levels, it would be very difficult to field equipment to the units that had the most pressing requirements."

Since a US withdrawal is still based, at least in part, on the ability of the ISF to operate on its own, any delays in equipping them will delay US forces from leaving.

David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in arms control and national security issues. The views expressed are his own.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)

No withdrawal timetable, no Zarqawi (Dec 7, '05)

How (not) to withdraw from Iraq (Dec 3, '05)

Fighting talk, but who's going to fight? (Dec 2, '05)

Iran and the US exit strategy in Iraq (Dec 2 '05)


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