283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq
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This is no minor detail. "According to U.S. Army officials, experience has shown that it takes one to two months to close the smallest platoon -- or company -- size installations, which contain between 16 and 200 combat soldiers or Marines."
However, the U.S. "has never closed large, complex installations -- such as Balad Air Force Base, which contains about 24,000 inhabitants and has matured over five years. U.S. Army officials estimate it could take longer than 18 months to close a base of that size." Obama should explain clearly how he intends to dismantle these bases or to what forces he is going to give control over them.
It is very hard to imagine that the U.S. will simply walk away from large bases it spent years building. So, will they be turned over to Iraq? If so, to whom? What guarantee is there that they would not be used as operating bases for death squads? Will some be destroyed? What about the environmental impact?
In addition to the bases, the GAO reveals that, as of of March 2008, "the United States had in place about 170,000 pieces of equipment worth about $16.5 billion that would need to be removed from Iraq." Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, says,"An example of a tough question: What to do with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]?"
"The MRAPs are so heavy, transport back to the U.S., plus the rehab charges may make it cost-effective to actually destroy them," says Leaver. "Plus, if you need to move 120,000 soldiers in a rapid time frame, do you even have the space to bring them back if you take the MRAPs?"
Then there are the facilities in Iraq currently being run by U.S. contractors. According to the GAO, Defense Contract Management Agency officials estimate "there is at least $3.5 billion worth of contractor-managed government-owned property in Iraq."
Troops Withdrawal, Contractor Surge?
Despite his much-celebrated troop withdrawal announcement, Obama has said nothing publicly about what he intends to do with the 163,000 "security contractors" deployed in Iraq, whose ranks outnumber U.S. troops. This is most likely because, as the GAO reports, there is no plan.
"From late 2007 through July 2008, planning for the redeployment of U.S. forces did not include a theaterwide plan for redeploying contractors," the GAO report reveals.
In fact, the GAO raises the prospect that Obama will actually increase reliance on private contractors -- including armed contractors like those who work for Blackwater -- particularly given the Obama administration's stated intention to increase diplomatic and reconstruction work in Iraq, which will create a greater need for "diplomatic security."
According to the GAO, the State Department spent about $1.1 billion from 2006 to 2008 on 1,400 private security contractors in Iraq. As of January 2009, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (the main employer of Blackwater and other armed contractors responsible for guarding U.S. diplomats and occupation officials), has already experienced a drastic increase in workload.
"State's reliance on contractors may increase as the department currently depends on DOD to provide some services," says the GAO, citing the examples of Bosnia and Kosovo, where "contractors assumed responsibility for certain support functions that had been previously performed by military personnel."
Of course, executives at private security companies have long suggested that a U.S. military draw down could mean a greater role for private forces in Iraq.
"To what extent does State have contingency plans in place if Embassy Baghdad is unable to decrease its reliance on U.S. civilian government personnel over the next 5 years?" asks the GAO report.