For the first time, a U.S. military official is saying on the record that the “vast majority” of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by mid-December, ahead of the end-of-year withdrawal deadline.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr told Pentagon reporters today that he could not provide specific timetables about the pace of the drawdown, though he revealed that most U.S. troops would be out by mid-December.
“I think it’s clear to me that by the time we get to about mid-December or so, the vast majority of the U.S. forces in Iraq, we plan to have them withdrawn fom Iraq by that time, ” said Spoehr, who is the deputy commanding general for support for U.S. Forces-Iraq.
He emphasized that the huge effort to remove all American troops and their equipment by year’s end was “not a rush to the exits.” He characterized the troop reduction as taking place “in a measured fashion” and said the withdrawal plan is flexible enough to allow for any bad weather that might delay troop movements.
“My belief is that the U.S. forces will easily meet their commitments under the security agreement and have all of our forces withdrawn by [Dec. 31],” said Spoehr.
As an indicator of how fast the drawdown is taking place right now, Spoehr said there are now 33,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from 39,000 last week and 43,000 a month ago.
According to Spoehr, most departing troops are being flown out of Iraq to Kuwait via major air hubs, such as Baghdad and other bases. In Kuwait, they wait for the military aircraft that will transport them to the United States, though a small number are being flown directly back to the U.S. from Iraq aboard charter aircraft.
Some troops are also departing by ground to Kuwait, though they are usually the ones that will be providing security for the convoys.
At any given time, Spoehr said, there are 55 convoys of 30 to 50 vehicles shipping equipment out of the country - that’s about 1,650 vehicles. He believes the only comparable operation of such size and scope occurred during World War II. Logistical teams keep track of every convoy’s movement in much the same way that air traffic controllers hand off control of planes in the sky.
The majority of the military’s equipment is being driven to Kuwait in logistical convoys of commercial vehicles that carry Humvees, MRAPs [Mine Resistant Armored Protection vehicles] and trucks.
Massive security efforts are being undertaken to protect the convoys as they proceed south to Kuwait. Planned routes are swept for roadside bombs prior to the vehicles hitting the road, and Iraqi security forces are providing security along the flanks of the convoy routes. Each convoy also has some American troops riding along in MRAP’s to provide force protection.