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U.S. leaves in Iraq equipment that it may need in Afghanistan

An Army soldier in Baghdad packs up equipment bound for Afghanistan. New rules make it much easier to leave items behind.
An Army soldier in Baghdad packs up equipment bound for Afghanistan. New rules make it much easier to leave items behind. (Maya Alleruzzo/associated Press)

Earlier this year, U.S. commanders in Iraq asked Pentagon officials for carte blanche to donate certain types of equipment at closing bases.

"These items represents [sic] the minimum requirements that must be met to ensure that [the U.S. military] is enabling the Government of Iraq with a fully functional base as we close or return installations," Brig. Gen. Kurt J. Stein wrote in a July 16 memo to the Pentagon.

That request was blocked at the time by Central Command officials who noted that U.S. forces in Afghanistan needed some of the items that commanders in Iraq wanted to leave behind. Soon after that, the Pentagon announced the new regulations that capped donations at $30 million per base, a 15-fold increase.

Before June 2008, the Pentagon authorized donations if a formal cost-benefit analysis showed that the expense of transporting the equipment for sale or use by another agency exceeded its value.

Since then, military officials have made decisions on gifts based chiefly on the "substantial benefits" provision.

The latest set of guidelines, issued Oct. 9, gave commanders in Iraq the authority to determine the merit of donating items worth less than $1 million without prior Pentagon approval. A separate provision raised the cap for donations to a total of $30 million per facility. The Pentagon also loosened the regulations for the donation of passenger vehicles, which previously could be given away only as an exception.

The memo gave commanders in Iraq a list of "suggested rationales" to justify donations. Those included avoiding potential delays of the withdrawal of troops by relieving them of the logistical challenges of moving tons of equipment and the belief that the gifts would "foster favorable relations" between the two countries.

Some U.S. military officials worry that much of the equipment left behind could be looted.

A U.S. officer whose unit turned over a Joint Security Station in Baghdad to the Iraqi army this summer said Iraqi soldiers looted the facility within hours of their official departure.

"When we returned to the outpost the next morning, most of the beds had already been taken, wood walls and framing had been pulled and several air-conditioning units had been removed from the walls, leaving gaping holes," said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event reflects negatively on the Iraqis.

Weeks later, the Caterpillar generator the Americans left behind was barely working, the officer said.

Brig. Gen. Bayer said he was not aware of looting at facilities turned over to the Iraqis.

"Once it's transferred," he said, "it's the government of Iraq's responsibility."

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