By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2011 – The U.S. military is on track to withdraw its forces from Iraq by the end of the year, the U.S. military’s most senior engineering officer posted there said yesterday.
The most important aspect of clearing the bases as the United States transitions out is the security of the force, said Army Brig. Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, director of U.S. Forces Iraq’s J-7 staff section for operational plans and joint force development.
“That’s where we’re at right now as far as our full spectrum engineering mission here,” Donahue said during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.
“So as we depart here at the end of the calendar year on the 31st of December and Operation New Dawn concludes and U.S. Forces-Iraq inactivates,” he continued, “this is really going to be a transition to the State Department, and they’re going to continue the mission here in cooperation with the government of Iraq.”
The United States signed a security agreement with the Republic of Iraq in 2008 that stipulated all U.S. forces would depart that country by Dec. 31, 2011. As director of J-7, Donahue is the senior U.S. military engineer in Iraq. He is responsible for providing full spectrum joint engineering support to U.S Forces-Iraq stability operations and assisting both the State Department and the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.
Donahue explained that full spectrum engineering generally comprises six tasks: protecting the force and providing ensured mobility, developing Iraqi security force engineer capability, providing base environmental and facility support, providing general and geospatial engineering support, enabling base transitions and posturing engineer forces.
“Currently our priority engineer effort here in Iraq is enabling base transitions, which remain on track and in accordance with the security agreement of 2008,” Donahue said. “U.S. forces in Iraq now reside on 41 bases. Twenty-eight of those are U.S. and 13 are partnered.”
In January 2008, U.S. forces resided on more than 500 bases throughout Iraq, Donahue said, noting the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq, about 50,000, today work and are billeted on just 82 bases.
The process is different for transitioning each base to the Iraqis, but for each base, the engineers perform site-closure surveys, and implement a corrective action plan thereafter.
Because the security agreement of 2008 requires the United States to protect the natural environment, Donahue said there is an emphasis on making sure the bases are cleaner now than before U.S. forces arrived.
“We maintain six environmental response and cleanup teams,” Donahue added. “We’ve got 11 environmental managers here in Iraq. Those are distributed throughout the operational environment.
“At this juncture with a little over three months to go until the end of the calendar year, we assess the 41 remaining bases require about 500 environmental sites that need some sort of closure or cleanup or transfer,” he continued. “Forty–nine of these 500 sites will be transferred to the government of Iraq as is for what we call ‘continued like use.’”
The remaining sites, he said, will be cleared and cleaned or mitigated by the responsible unit, by contractors or by environmental response and cleanup teams.
In addition to the transition and cleaning of bases, U.S. engineers are continuing to train Iraqi security forces.
“We continue to strengthen the Iraqi security forces … through multiple partnered training events and engineer equipment fielding initiatives, to include the establishment of 14 field engineer regiments and a strategic bridge regiment within the Iraqi army,” Donahue said.
Training the Iraqi security forces is paramount to the success of the mission, he said.
“Obviously ensured mobility is a big part of our mission here in Iraq from an engineering perspective, keeping the routes open, protecting the force,” Donahue said. “Just to give you some perspective, since about 2005, engineers have really conducted more than about 55,000 of these route-clearance patrols, more than six-and-a-half million kilometers of roads cleared. Then of course, we’ve also removed over 4,300 [improvised explosive devices].”