Experts Talk Logistics (Updated)

Regardless of the skepticism of the commanders in Iraq I have no doubt that, should they be ordered to do so, they will execute the orders of President Obama to withdraw combat troops from Iraq at the rate that he requires.

In the kind of redeployment that Anderson is talking about, the troops head home, but much of their equipment stays behind. Two combat brigades means up to 1,200 humvees in addition to thousands of other pieces of equipment, like trucks, fuelers, tankers and helicopters.

And 90 percent of the equipment would have to be moved by ground through the Iraqi war zone, to the port in Kuwait, where it must all be cleaned and inspected and prepared for shipment. This is a place with frequent dust storms, limited port facilities and limited numbers of wash racks.

While Anderson and his troops have a positive attitude, several commanders who looked at the Obama plan told ABC News, on background, that there was “no way” it could work logistically.

Withdrawal under those circumstances would have implications. As things stand now it’s incompatible with sustainable security for Iraq. A lot of equipment would be left behind. If simply left behind it could fall into the hands of those who wish to do us harm. Destroying it has risks of its own. In addition to recover force readiness equipment would need to be replaced. That would cut into the withdrawal dividend that Sen. Obama is counting on to pay for the domestic programs he’s proposing.


M. Duss of Think Progress has what I think is a reasonable response to the original piece linked above. I don’t agree with some parts of it because I think that the costs of withdrawal are higher than M. Duss suggests and that I don’t think there’s a downside risk to not withdrawing from Iraq as a consequence of Afghanistan being short-changed because I don’t believe that a great deal more can be accomplished with a significantly larger force in Afghanistan as long as the current constraints there remain in place.

5 comments… add one
  • If simply left behind it could fall into the hands of those who wish to do us harm.

    I assume you mean the Iraqi Army forces who would occupy the bases where that equipment is stored. The general in charge of training them says they’ll be ready to stand on their own (for internal security) by August 2009. Or maybe you meant the USAF, who would be part of the contingent left behind according to thew Obama plan. Or maybe the heavy armor, artillery and logistics units likewise left behind as a force to defend Iraq from external threats by that plan. 🙂

    Incidentally, what’s wrong with leaving equipment the IA desperately needs but is worn out by US standards on some kind of lend-lease deal?

    Regards, C

  • No, I mean anybody who happens to wander by and pick stuff up. Unless there’s an orderly transition of the material to the Iraqi military. I have no objection to such a transfer. Note, however, that it would affect the calculations on how much would be saved by withdrawing from Iraq.

  • Of course our military would comply with their orders. It would not be pretty, and I suspect it would be accompanied by many an offier resigning their commissions, followed by countless unnecessary deaths when we are finally faced with having to clean up the new threats that arise. My message to my children has been, if Obama is elected, to please leave the service.

  • That’s a point that needs repeated emphasis, GW. I’m not a particular Ronald Reagan fan but I think he gets a bad rap to some extent. I think that a lot of the excesses of the Reagan Administration were a direct consequence of bad foreign policy decisions made by the Carter Administration.

    The most notable thing about American foreign policy is that despite the lack of a guiding hand it is remarkably consistent. Carter was a great deviation from that. Some characterize Bush that way but I don’t think he has deviated from our norm so much as done waht any president would have done under the circumstances.

    If Sen. Obama is elected president and tries to follow the lead set by Carter, we’ll have a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards.

  • Glad you updated your post, Dave. Duss is right on the logistics issue. It’s a red herring. When you hear a military guy offer logistics as a reason for why we can’t withdraw quickly, you know he’s really opposing the withdrawal policy, not giving credible logistics advice. Martha Raddatz got some good info, but her anonymous sources were feeding her some bunk as well.

    The logistical constraints are primarily physical “choke points” — moving masses of stuff along a limited number of exit routes (e.g. do we add a northern route to Turkey?), and the capacity of the ports that will handle the containers and vehicles, etc. In terms of pure logistical constraints, we could pack up and march out in 4-6 months, but nobody is suggesting that. The 12-month scenario that Korb et al suggest isn’t a stretch logistically.

    The stuff we’ll leave behind is stuff we don’t want to take with us, regardless of how fast or slow we exit. Under any exit scenario — except helicopters off the embassy roof — all the war-fighting equipment and materiel that is useful to the US will be shipped back to home bases (the US, Germany etc) or turned over to the Iraqi military. There’s no reason why a deliberate brigade-by-brigade withdrawal shouldn’t involve an orderly handing over of vehicles, weapons or munitions to the appropriate Iraqi Army unit if we decide to leave some of that stuff for them.

    The other things which the go-slow folks trot out to make the whole withdrawal process seem logistically overwhelming are stuff like refrigerators, office equipment, supply vehicles, or supplies. (NB: when you’re looking at projections, watch out when folks use back-of-the envelope calculations of how much stuff we have to haul out that they don’t use measures like the typical weight of a Combat Brigade Team, which includes stuff like water!) A lot of those beat-up humvees should also be candidates for leaving behind and replaced by the newest generation of vehicles. The things we’ll leave behind don’t make sense cost-wise to haul home. They’ll be sold off at fire-sale prices to Middle East middlemen, given over to Iraqis along with bases or other facilities, or, I’m sad to say, looted if the Iraqi Army fails to secure facilities, as has been its wont.

    It’s true that we’ll have huge expenses in replacing military equipment etc — current estimates are running over $100 billion. But that’s the cost of reset, which is inordinately high because the operations tempo and environment have chewed up everything faster than anyone ever planned for. All the services are facing enormous reset costs and having to make hard decisions about how purchasing replacement equipment will intersect with plans for developing new weapon systems or equipment — and the messy politics of which budget line the costs will come out of. The added cost isn’t because we’ll be leaving behind lots of valuable stuff due to a suddenly accelerated pace of withdrawal.

    I agree that redeployment of troops to Afghanistan isn’t, in and of itself, an enormously powerful argument for Iraq withdrawal. The number of troops we can divert from Iraq isn’t going to be the make-or-break in the Afganistan conflict. It is relevant, however, in looking at the overall sustainability of our current commitments. I can’t find the link now, but as I understand the Pentagon’s plans, more than half of the troops going to Iraq over the next six months will be Nat’l Guard, many on second tours. And the poor Marines who were about to come home from Afghanistan just got their tour extended. It’s a dreadful mess!

    For me, the important policy at this point isn’t choosing the “right” timeline for withdrawal — whether 16 months or 26 months is neither here nor there, though all things being equal, the sooner the better. What I believe is critical is Obama’s core message — he will change (or more accurately clarify for the first time) the strategic objectives of our military involvement in Iraq. He will rely on the military to design the right way to achieve those objectives while ramping up complementary diplomatic, economic and political activities.

    In effect, Obama is adopting the broad strategy, including its regional dimensions, outlined in the Baker-Hamilton plan. The virtue of including Afghanistan in his discussion of plans for Iraq isn’t the specifics about troop deployment. Rather, by repeatedly linking Iraq and Afghanistan he puts an increasingly difficult challenge we face in Afghanistan in the middle of the regional agenda, where it has belonged from the start. What we’re actually going to do about Afghanistan is for now being left by both candidates to post-inauguration, and rightly so.

    Right now our goals in Iraq are so muddled we don’t even know who the enemy is against which we’re supposed to achieve “victory with honor”. And as for long-term strategy, it’s a fantasy to imagine we’re going to have a Germany/Korea-type strategic ally with whom we will protect US “interests in the region”. A terrible strategic objective, even if it were achievable.

    Obama’s “timetable” is a political marker — for US domestic purposes — that announces in no uncertain terms that the “mission” is going to change, and no fudging about it. It’s also a way of making it clear to the US military that there will be a change in their marching orders, and it puts a fire under the planners (both US and Iraqi) to come up with ways to get things done.

    And finally, it’s a clear signal to the Iraqis that he’s on the same page they are re a long-term presence in Iraq. The comments this week from every major Iraqi group but the Kurds reflect a better fit between Obama’s objectives and what the Iraqis will start to demand in terms of sovereignty. By contrast, McCain is so committed to his fantasies that he has been totally flummoxed by this week’s developments, which shouldn’t have come as a great surprise. How could anyone imagine Sistani would be OK with the sort of SOFA that the Bush admin seem to have had in mind.

    Pace Martha Raddatz, a 16 month timeframe is quite plausible as a logistical matter, so it serves as a credible starting point. The specifics will of course be worked out with the Iraqis, including how we continue to provide necessary functions like substituting for Iraq’s non-existent air force. Adjustments will be made if and when needed as the plan is implemented.

    But if Obama started now to signal that the 16-month goal was just a marker, he’d waste half of every day responding to useless questions from the media, and being second-guessed by retired generals and anonymous officers, about which criteria should be used to decide whether 18 months or 22 months or 31 months would be better, which brigades should come out first or second or tenth, and so forth. Those specifics will ultimately be left for discussions between the US and the Iraqis, and US military plans will, of necessity, reflect conditions on the ground.

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