Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Logistics of Withdrawing from Iraq

Last night, Joe Biden returned to his old self, overpowering his opponents with knowledge and passion on the most important issue in this election: Iraq. Example:

It's time to start to tell the truth. The truth of the matter is: If we started today, it would take one year, one year to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq, logistically.

Time's Michael Duffy elaborates:

The reality is that it's difficult to get out fast. It took the Soviets nine months to pull 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan. They were simply going next door, and they still lost more than 500 men on the way out. Pulling out 10 combat brigades—roughly 30,000 troops, along with their gear and support personnel—would take at least 10 months, Pentagon officials say. And that's only part of the picture. There are civilians who would probably want to head for the exit when GIs started packing. They include some 50,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis who might need protection if we left the country.

Slowing things down further is the sheer volume of stuff that we would have to take with us—or destroy if we couldn't. Military officials recently told Congress that 45,000 ground-combat vehicles—a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and Humvees—are now in Iraq. They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. These items have to be taken back home or destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of one faction or another. Pentagon officials will try to bring back as much of the downtime gear as possible—dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters. William (Gus) Pagonis, the Army logistics chief who directed the flood of supplies to Saudi Arabia for the 1991 Gulf War and their orderly withdrawal from the region, cites one more often overlooked hurdle: U.S. agricultural inspectors insist that, before it re-enters the U.S., Army equipment be free of any microscopic disease that, as Pagonis puts it, "can wipe out flocks of chickens and stuff like that."

I'd like to hear why Bill Richardson, who wants to "bring all the troops home . . . in six months, with no residual forces," thinks his knowledge of military matters trumps that of the guys doing the heavy lifting.