The Washington Post

Bulk of U.S. troops out of Iraq by mid-December

U.S. soldiers at a base in Nassiriya, southeast of Baghdad, carry a box containing military gear to be shipped out of Iraq. (Atef Hassan — Reuters)

With just under two months before American forces must leave Iraq, the U.S. military still has 33,000 service members, 12 bases and 600,000 pieces of equipment in the country.

But the United States should “easily” be able to meet its commitments under the security agreement with Baghdad, according to Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, the deputy commanding general for support for U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We’re at about 33,000 people today and we’re going to be at zero on December 31st, 2011,” Spoehr told reporters via satellite from Iraq.

It was only two weeks ago that President Obama announced that all U.S. troops — with the exception of a tiny contingent to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities — would have to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, after extended U.S-Iraqi negotiations over the status-of-forces agreement failed to produce an agreement.

The result has been a massive effort to get troops and equipment out in a relatively short time frame. Spoehr compared it to the “Red Ball Express” in World War II, when huge numbers of Allied truck convoys rolled across Europe after the invasion of Normandy.

But he also said the departure from Iraq was being based on a “deliberate plan, methodically executed.”

“We’re doing it based on the security situation, and we’re also remaining cognizant of our requirement to remain good stewards of U.S.-provided equipment, personnel, and to leave the bases that we’ve been occupying better than we found them,” he said.

At the height of the surge, U.S. forces in Iraq numbered roughly 165,000 and were spread across 505 bases. The U.S. military had 2 million pieces of equipment in the country.

With the end of the withdrawal near, about 2.5 million pieces of equipment, worth about $195 million, have been left behind — largely because it would cost more than that to ship it home.

Spoehr said the last to be pulled out of Iraq would be medical personnel, logistics teams and “the necessary combat power to make sure that we’re strong all the way until the last moment.”

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