The U.S. military is about to begin one of the most complex operations in its repertoire: the withdrawal of a major portion of its forces from Iraq. The only condition that would render this effort more difficult is if it were being made under fire. So far, however, it appears as if the U.S. will be able to begin to bring the troops home under relatively benign conditions.
Bringing nearly 100,000 troops and their equipment home is no small matter. We are talking about tens of thousands of vehicles, many of them heavily armored. There are also thousands of generators, computers, radios and other types of equipment. There are tens of thousands of tons of ammunition that must be catalogued and evaluated, destroyed or packaged and then shipped back to storage facilities. In addition, the military has thousands of shipping containers, many still owned by the companies that brought goods into Iraq, that have been used as barracks, offices and shelters. They too must either be returned to their owners or paid for and left in Iraq.
What may pass unnoticed to most Americans are the hidden costs associated with the withdrawal. The United States has spent billions of dollars providing for the welfare and comfort of U.S. forces. Companies such as KBR have built and run dozens of major bases with hot and cold running water, kitchens and cafeterias, medical facilities, laundry facilities, roads, and repair centers. All told, according to today’s Washington Post, there are some 280 U.S. facilities in Iraq. Much of the equipment at these facilities will remain in Iraq. This is particularly true for so-called white goods. Virtually everything coming back from Iraq will need to be rehabilitated if it is to be used again. In many instances it is not worth paying the costs to ship the equipment back home and store it.
But even a great deal of military equipment is likely to be left behind. So in addition to the shipping costs, the military would have to spend hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, to get all the extra equipment into working order. Refitting military hardware — tanks, Strykers, MRAPs, Humvees, etc. — will cost the Army billions over the next several years. There is no money to refurbish non-essential equipment. As a result, whatever can be left behind will be. Hopefully, excess military equipment and some of the civilian goods can be put to good use by the Iraqis.
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