Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A looming disaster

The WaPo has an excellent piece in today's paper about our ultimate withdrawal from Iraq.

Lots of people are talking about what will happen to Iraq when the US occupation ends and this article contrasts the DoD view from the of the WH.

But a real issue no one is talking about his how we can possible get out of that mess without massive bloodshed. The logistics of withdrawal.

We have literally millions and millions of tons of equipment in Iraq that has been moved in over years. Pulling that equipment out will be a Hurculian task. And we will be shot at and attacked the entire time. You can't just airlift this stuff out. All this equipment must be driven to ports (in Kuwait?) cleaned up (can't bring home desert bugs and seeds) and loaded on to ships. Everyone agrees this will take months at best. Everyone also agrees that we cannot maintain current troop levels past next spring without extending tours beyond 15 months and sending in troops who haven't been home 12 months.

The bottom line is that we will be out of anything close to fresh troops by next spring and we need to get out. This is a huge looming disaster.
History is replete with bad withdrawal outcomes. Among the most horrific was the British departure from Afghanistan in 1842, when 16,500 active troops and civilians left Kabul thinking they had safe passage to India. Two weeks later, only one European arrived alive in Jalalabad, near the Afghan-Indian border.

The Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan, which began in May 1988 after a decade of occupation, reveals other mistakes to avoid. Like the U.S. troops who arrived in Iraq in 2003, the Soviet force in Afghanistan was overwhelmingly conventional, heavy with tanks and other armored vehicles. Once Moscow made public its plans to leave, the political and security situations unraveled much faster than anticipated. "The Soviet Army actually had to fight out of certain areas," said Army Maj. Daniel Morgan, a two-tour veteran of the Iraq war who has been studying the Soviet pullout at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., with an eye toward gleaning lessons for Iraq. "As a matter of fact, they had to airlift out of Kandahar, the fighting was so bad."

War supporters and opponents in Washington disagree on the lessons of the departure most deeply imprinted on the American psyche: the U.S. exit from Vietnam. "I saw it once before, a long time ago," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam veteran and presidential candidate, said last week of an early Iraq withdrawal. "I saw a defeated military, and I saw how long it took a military that was defeated to recover."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), also a White House hopeful, finds a different message in the Vietnam retreat. Saying that Baghdad would become "Saigon revisited," he warned that "we will be lifting American personnel off the roofs of buildings in the Green Zone if we do not change policy, and pretty drastically."

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