CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq — It’s late here, 2 a.m., but I wanted to pass on some quick reactions to the news spreading by word of mouth between soldiers that Defense Secretary Gates told Congress he was “interested” in keeping “an additional presence” in Iraq past 2011.
The U.S. signed a 2008 agreement with Iraq saying it’s troops would leave by Dec. 31, 2011. Gates is now saying he wants a few more to stay than the 150 who will help Iraqis with Foreign Military Sales.
“There is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence,” Gates said. “And the truth of the matter is the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they are going to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers.”
Photographer Chris Maddaloni and I have spent the past two weeks traveling to visit Army units in Iraq. The soldiers we’ve spoken to are ready to go home, but they recognize there’s a lot to be done. So much that it’s hard to imagine everyone could leave by December.
The Iraqi Army has barely started its full spectrum warfare training program; their air force can’t protect Iraqi airspace; and it’s Army struggles to supply itself.
U.S. soldiers praise their Iraqi counterparts for the progress they’ve made over the past eight years, but many still doubt they could protect their borders from their Middle Eastern neighbors.
A recent survey done by an Army Human Terrain Team of an Iraqi battalion training outside Mosul, Iraq, found that only half their soldiers felt the Army could protect its border. Only a quarter of the U.S. soldiers training the Iraqi battalion said the Army could protect from foreign attack.
Meanwhile, a trip to the Iraqi Army’s logistic hub in Taji finds a lot of well stocked shelves in brand new warehouses built with American tax dollars. The problem is that those shelves remain stocked because Iraq’s generals would prefer stocked shelves than having those vehicle parts getting shipped to units.
To get parts, Iraqi units, no matter where they are in the country have to travel to Taji. As for the digital database being transfered onto Iraq’s version of SIPRNET, that has been down for three months.
Iraq’s military still has a long way to go and U.S. troops don’t have a lot of time left. And don’t forget, U.S. soldiers still have 8 years worth of infrastructure to pack up and bring home.