Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Logistics of Leaving Iraq: Part One

By Julie Weckerlein

This is the first post of our Leaving Iraq series, detailing the logistics involved in ending military operations in Iraq.

In 2008, there were more than 500 military bases in Iraq manned by U.S. military personnel. Before United States Forces-Iraq (USF-I) leaves that country at the end of 2011, the future of each installation must be determined, and an appropriate transition must be made to either the Iraqis or the U.S. State Department. In general military parlance, most of those locations are referred to as “forward operating bases,” though they are known by more specific names, based on their size.

A “contingency operating base,” for instance, is a larger facility that might house a brigade combat team (BCT), a “contingency operating site” would be sized for a BCT-sized element or smaller and a “contingency operating location” might house a battalion-sized element. There are also patrol bases, and joint security stations, and coalition outposts.

Each property, including the infrastructure must be evaluated before turnover. Equipment must be moved out or transitioned, and property must be legally and responsibly transitioned to the follow-on unit or organization that will occupy it.

By late July 2011, the portfolio of installations the U.S. military occupied in Iraq had dropped by some 90 percent, to about 57. By Dec. 31, that number will have dropped to zero.

Brigadier Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, director, J-7, U.S. Forces- Iraq, said bases are transitioned to the government of Iraq through a “very deliberate, base transition process” that he says is outlined in “The USF-I Base Transition Smartbook.”

“‘Transition,’ like FOB is an overarching term,” Donahue said. “We can either close a base, return it to the government of Iraq, conduct a partial return of a base or complete an administrative closure. The base transition Smartbook explains how we do this.”

There are many people involved in the process, with as many as five “lines of operation” needed to complete a transition, the general said. Included among those are real estate management, environmental oversight, property distribution, contracting and documentation and final real estate transfer.

Transitioning a military installation after it has been used for so many years is akin to moving out of a home, Donahue said. “We inventory property and ensure facilities are clean, functional and free of any debts or financial burdens.”

He said about 45 days prior to United States Forces – Iraq leaving an installation in Iraq, they begin a “weaning” process where various services cease. Included among those might be morale, welfare and recreation services as well as various utilities. “You start to thin and consolidate,” he said.

And while Soldiers are repositioned off those installations, to ensure a “responsible drawdown” of forces, USF-I coordinates with the Iraqis to determine who is going to accept the property on the installation, and who is going to accept the facility or base.

The government of Iraq provides a “receivership secretariate,” who works with the USF-I J-7 basing team to complete the transition, Donahue said. The joint process is meant to ensure the transition is conducted fairly and accounts for the installation and everything on it: furniture, utilities and key infrastructure such as water treatment plants, hazardous waste treatment centers and incinerators.

In most cases, the installations are transitioned whole to an Iraqi unit. In the case of Victory Base Complex — the largest of the 12 “large” bases in Iraq, situated outside Baghdad International Airport — the installation will be parceled out in various pieces to different ministries of the Iraqi government, including the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense.

Allowing the government of Iraq to take pieces of VBC, means USF-I no longer needs to provide security for that part of the installation.

“It allows us to thin our own lines, which minimizes the resources we have to commit,” Donahue said. “That’s one aspect of that land you don’t have to worry about.”

Not all installations will transfer to the Iraqis, however. Some “enduring sites” will instead transfer to the U.S. Department of State, for use by the U.S. embassy.

Continued in Part 2.

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