WASHINGTON: The U.S. Army succeeded in closing hundreds of forward operating bases, removing thousands of troops and drawing down vast amounts of equipment from Iraq in advance of the formal end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the beginning of Operation New Dawn Sept. 1.
The Army removed trucks, tanks, ammunition, supply containers and helicopters from Iraq as part of a well-planned, systematic drawdown of equipment, service officials said.
“We had a very good plan going into the operation — a plan produced at every level of command. We knew from the beginning that one of the important things would be metrics – so we could measure our progress and start measuring how we were doing and know quickly if we were off track. We developed metrics for a number of things — how many bases were closed, how many Soldiers remained In Iraq, how many vehicles were retrograded, etc.” said Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, Deputy Chief of Staff, G4.
By the end of August, the Army had closed and/or transferred more than 411 bases, bringing the active number of forward operating bases in Iraq down to 93, Stevenson said.
Other major Iraq drawdown milestones – as of the end of August – include:
- — A reduction in vehicles from a peak of 42,000 down to 17,300 – a 58.9 percent reduction.
- — A reduction in supply containers from a peak of 88,000 down to 47,000 – a 46.9 percent reduction.
- — A reduction in helicopters from 463 to 224 aircraft – a 51.6 percent reduction.
- — A reduction of trucks on daily convoys from 3,100 to a daily average of 280- a 91 percent reduction.
Other elements of the drawdown include reductions in supplies, gear, ammunition, food, fuel and dining facilities, all squarely aimed at meeting President Barack Obama’s stated goal of reducing forces down to 50,000 personnel by Aug. 31, Stevenson said.
“Armed with an adequate amount of time, a good plan in the beginning, metrics to measure ourselves and a lot of hardworking people, it has come together like clockwork — like a typical Army operation — efficient, well-planned, and well-executed,” Stevenson said.
Removing equipment from Iraq involves a complex mixture of approaches and methodologies, drawing from a range of strategies, such as transferring equipment to the Iraqi Army to help enable them to operate after the U.S. troops have gone, dubbing excess equipment available for Foreign Military Sales, bringing equipment to Kuwait for repair and transfer to Afghanistan, replenishing the Army’s pre-positioned equipment stocks and moving equipment back to the continental United States, Army leaders explained.
“As item by item comes out, we ask if it is excess to the Army’s requirements. If it is excess, then let’s see if this is something Iraq needs. Let’s see if the Government of Iraq wants this. If it is not excess, then it is often identified as something you would send down south to Kuwait,” said Maj. Gen. George Harris, assistant military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
Generally speaking, equipment leaving Iraq is typically subject to a four-pronged approach plan monitored by an entity called the Equipment Distribution Review Board, or EDRB, a decision-making body led by U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli and Army Materiel Command Commander Gen. Ann Dunwoody.
The first phase is to ensure that supplies that can be consumed are consumed instead of brought back. Much of the redistribution of consumable supplies is managed by U.S. Army Sustainment Command.
The second phase, if something cannot be consumed, is to redistribute it elsewhere such as Afghanistan. The third phase of the plan is to bring equipment back to CONUS if there is a need for it elsewhere in the U.S.-based Army, or by states and local governments, and the fourth phase is simply to dispose of items for which there is no other identifiable need.
A lot of forklifts, cranes, surveillance gear, container handlers, robots and Explosive Ordinance Disposal equipment went to Afghanistan, Stevenson and Harris said.
“A large number of supplies and equipment were redistributed to Afghanistan and in some cases to the Iraqi Security Forces. It is to our advantage to have the Iraqi Army capable of standing on its own sooner rather than later. If that meant giving them some of our equipment to enable them to develop their minimum essential capability so they could operate after we left — that is what we needed to do. We have in fact done some of that,” Stevenson said.
In fact, along these lines, 559 up-armored Humvees were transferred to the Iraqi Army (under the authority of the FY10 NDAA), Stevenson explained.
The EDRB evolved out of a process which had previously stood up two equipment- governing bodies called Materiel Enterprise Portals, or MEPs – one for Iraq called MEP-I and one for Afghanistan called the MEP-A, Harris explained.
Over the course of the last several years, the drawdown plans were subject to the ebb and flow of fast-changing conditions on the ground in Iraq, forcing leaders to constantly make adjustments for the benefit of the war effort — all the while remaining focused on the overall drawdown goals.
“We had the better part of a year and half to develop a good, coherent plan,” Stevenson said. “Our plan had phases to it; one of the phases was tied to the Iraqi elections and the setting of a new government after the elections. The elections were originally supposed to be in November of last year – but they actually occurred in March of this year. We had to hold back some units that were already scheduled to leave because the drawdown was not going to be time-based — it was going to be condition-based. The conditions weren’t right yet to begin drawing down forces. The Iraqi government still isn’t set, but the conditions are such that Gen. Odierno [Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general, United States Forces-Iraq] was comfortable bringing down the size of the force.”
One of the innovations made during the course of drawdown proceedings was to find ways to route some equipment and Soldiers directly out of Iraq rather than routing through Kuwait; for instance, some supplies were shipped out of ports in Jordan instead of Kuwait, Stevenson said.
“Also, we had a plan to ship out of Turkey, but we haven’t needed to do that,” said Stevenson.
Removing Trucks and Combat Vehicles
Most of the large combat vehicles were shipped to the region and driven into Iraq by U.S. Soldiers. Removing them from theater, however, is a slightly different process. Without there being a combat-related need to drive them out, most of the large combat vehicles such as M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, M88s, M113s and Paladins were moved out of Iraq on large Army trucks called Heavy Equipment Transporters, or HETs, Stevenson said.
At the same time, thousands of Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles known as FMTVs, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles or MRAPs, Strykers and other vehicles were simply driven out of Iraq into Kuwait.
“Trucks are generally driven out – the exception being any truck that is not up-armored — but most of our trucks are up-armored now,” Stevenson said.
Those trucks that are not up-armored, such as a Command and Control Humvees, are driven out on flatbed trucks so as to minimize risk to Soldiers who could come under attack while driving.
Some MRAPs were shipped to Afghanistan, Stevenson said. “Because of the nature of the terrain in Afghanistan, only certain models of MRAP are useful to them. The RG 33s are too big, but the MaxxPro – that works over here,” Stevenson said.
Other MRAPs were shipped home to the United States to help train units preparing to deploy, Harris said. “So the first MRAPs that came back were positioned in CONUS at pre-deployment training sites to train units that were deploying overseas. When we first fielded MRAP, we never intended on bringing those things home. Things change. Now we know we are going to use MRAP,” said Harris.
The Army is still working through how best to manage its fleet of MRAPs. “We as an Army were wrestling with many different kinds of MRAP. We didn’t design MRAP with long-term sustainment in mind. We did the right thing — we fielded it quickly and saved a lot of Soldiers’ lives by doing it,” said Harris.
Typically, the helicopters leaving theater are flown from Iraq down to Kuwait, where they are disassembled, put aboard ships and brought back to CONUS, Stevenson said.
During the course of the war, improved methods of maintaining helicopters in combat made it possible for the Army to double the amount of time they can remain deployed. Through a process known as Systematic Teardown Inspection and Repair, or STIR — improvements to the helicopters, such as decreasing the sand they were exposed to by putting sand filters on the engines and building concrete landing pads at FOBs, made it possible to dramatically extend the service life of helicopters in combat, Stevenson said.
“We have improved how we operate over there. In the beginning you landed in the sand — which billows up that talcum powder-like sand and it gets into everything. Today, all of our helicopter landing pads are concrete. We have poured down concrete which has made things much easier on the helicopters. Also, we now have inlet barrier filters on all our engines,” said Stevenson.
“It used to be in 2003 when the war began, after about a year when we would rotate units out – they would rotate out with all of their helicopters. We would bring the helicopters back here and put them through a very intensive maintenance reset cycle where we literally tore them down to their frame. We inspected the wiring, the electronic components, the hydraulics and then put it all back together,” he said.
Now, helicopters can fly for two years before being put back through the STIR process, helping to keep costs down, and preventing unnecessary maintenance, Stevenson explained.
An average helo takes about 90 to 120 days to reset during this intensive tear-down, inspection and repair.
More Drawdown Planned for Future
The Army plans to build on its success and use a similar model to drawdown the remaining forces and equipment at the appropriate time.
“It is not like peace has broken out and there is no threat in Iraq, so we have had to be careful of redistributing too much out of Iraq too quickly because the guys in Iraq say ‘don’t forget about us, we still have an enemy here,'” Stevenson said. “We still have 50,000 soldiers that will carry us through until December 2011. Then at some point next summer – we’ll do the same thing that we have done up until now to take us from 50,000 to zero.”