Commanders Plan Eventual Consolidation of U.S. Bases in Iraq

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2005

BAGHDAD -- U.S. military commanders have prepared plans to consolidate American troops in Iraq into four large air bases as they look ahead to giving up more than 100 other bases now occupied by international forces, officers said.

Several officers involved in drafting the consolidation plan said it entailed the construction of longer-lasting facilities at the sites, including barracks and office structures made of concrete block instead of the metal trailers and tin-sheathed buildings that have become the norm at bigger U.S. bases in Iraq.

The new, sturdier buildings will give the bases a more permanent character, the officers acknowledged. But they said the consolidation plan was not meant to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Instead, they said, it is part of a withdrawal expected to occur in phases, with Iraqi forces gradually taking over many of the bases inhabited by U.S. and other foreign troops. Eventually, U.S. units would end up concentrated at the four heavily fortified, strategically located hubs, enabling them to provide continued logistical support and emergency combat assistance, the officers said.

"We call it BRAC for Iraq," said one general, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission now deciding which bases to close in the United States. "If we're going to withdraw, we need a base plan."

The officers said a master plan for the positioning of U.S. forces in the Middle East, maintained by U.S. Central Command, did not envision keeping U.S. forces in Iraq permanently. Instead, it calls for what one Army colonel here described as "strategic overwatch" from bases in Kuwait, meaning U.S. forces there would be near enough to respond to events in Iraq if necessary.

Nonetheless, the consolidation plan appears to reflect a judgment by U.S. military commanders that American forces are likely to be in Iraq for some years, even after their numbers begin to decline, and that they probably will continue to face danger. The new buildings are being designed to withstand direct mortar strikes, according to a senior military engineer. Funding for the first group of redesigned barracks was included in the $82 billion supplemental war-spending bill approved by Congress this month, he said.

Already this year, U.S. forces have vacated 13 bases, turning most of them over to Iraqi military or police units in the Baghdad area and shifting the U.S. troops to other locations.

U.S. forces currently occupy 106 bases, ranging in size from the sprawling Camp Victory complex near Baghdad's international airport where the U.S. military command is headquartered, to some outposts with as few as 500 soldiers. Additionally, the United States operates four detention facilities and several convoy support centers for servicing the long daily truck runs from Kuwait into Iraq.

No timetable exists for turning over all the bases, the officers said. Any decision to begin reducing U.S. forces, they stressed, will be based on a variety of factors -- chief among them, the strength of the insurgency and the ability of Iraq's security services to fight it.

Although U.S. commanders have made clear they would like to begin drawing down troops from the current level of about 138,000 by some time next year, they say no decision has been reached.

Still, as Iraqi units are formed and start operating, they will need bases, and U.S. planners anticipate giving up space to them. Most of the property that U.S. forces occupied after they invaded had belonged to the Iraqi government and was used by the former army and other security services.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company