By Karen ParrishAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, – With some 33,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq and less than two months left to complete withdrawal by Dec. 31, the redeployment operation under way there is extraordinary, a senior officer with U.S. Forces Iraq said today.
Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, the command’s deputy commanding general for support, briefed Pentagon reporters here on the massive relocation effort via video teleconference from Baghdad.
“There are trucks and planes and people moving very quickly, … [but] this is not a rush to the exits,” he said.
At the height of the troop surge, U.S. forces inhabited 505 bases throughout Iraq, Spoehr noted. When Operation New Dawn began in September 2010, the number had dropped to 92; today, there are 12, he said.
Troop levels are down from more than 165,000, and equipment once numbering more than 2 million pieces is down to 600,000, he added.
Most of the remaining troops will take military flights to Kuwait and return to the United States from there, while some will take direct commercial flights from Iraq to the United States, the general said.
Spoehr oversees logistics, personnel, communications and contracting for U.S. forces in Iraq, and said the scope of the redeployment effort there is unequalled since World War II’s “Red Ball Express” truck convoys supplied Allied combat forces in Europe.
“What we’re executing is a deliberate plan to safely and responsibly withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31,” he said. “This plan is flexible enough to account for change -- no plan should be so rigid that it cannot account for adverse weather or enemy activity -- but it’s a methodical and measured plan.”
As redeployment efforts ramp up, the general said, some 55 U.S. military logistics convoys involving up to 1,650 trucks crisscross Iraq at any given time, funneling military equipment to Kuwait for shipment. The military and contracted drivers on those convoys are backed up by U.S. forces that have searched the roads for bombs and gathered intelligence on security threats, the general said.
“If they get in any trouble, of course, the U.S. Forces Iraq stand behind them with all kinds of combat power and medical care, should they need it,” Spoehr added.
The general noted the State Department will lead U.S. efforts in Iraq as of Jan. 1, 2012, and will oversee the Office of Security Cooperation Iraq, which, among other tasks, will manage the delivery of U.S. weapons purchased by the Iraqi government, including M1 tanks and F-16 fighter jets.
U.S. forces have loaned some military equipment to the State Department, including camera-equipped surveillance systems, radar systems and mine-protected vehicles, the general said.
U.S. forces also have transferred some items to the Iraqi government, he said. Most of that equipment is useful in running bases and would cost more to ship home than to replace, he added. Items transferred to Iraq thus far have a fair market value of $196 million, Spoehr explained, but represent shipping-cost avoidance of $298 million.
The two hallmarks of the operation, the general said, are force protection and stewardship -- keeping troops safe, accounting for military property and returning bases to the Iraqi government “better than we found them.”
While violent attacks now average 14 a day, down from a daily average of nearly 149 from 2007 to 2009, Iraq remains a dangerous place, and U.S. forces there remain committed to ensuring their fellow service members are protected until they reach home, Spoehr said.
“In those last few weeks, few days of this calendar year, the primary people will be those that you can’t let go near the end,” he said. “Our medical people that have to provide access to uninterrupted medical care; our logisticians, who are responsible for safely moving all the people and the equipment out of Iraq; and then the necessary combat power to make sure we’re strong … until the last moment.”