Entries in Drawdown (33)


Britain Pulling Large Number of Troops Out of Afghanistan Next Year

ISAF Photo by British Royal Army Sergeant James Elmer(LONDON) -- Britain plans to drawdown nearly half of its forces from Afghanistan next year ahead of the near-complete withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition troops by sometime in 2014.

With 9,000 forces currently deployed mostly in three provinces, Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce on Wednesday that he will order 4,000 soldiers back home in 2013 and may go beyond that if the situation on the ground warrants it.

Cameron came to his decision based on assessments from his top officers in Afghanistan's Helmand province and after conferring with his security team in London.

The British leader also informed President Obama about the plan to essentially halve the number of his forces in Afghanistan.  Obama still hasn't revealed what his drawdown plans are for 2013, with about 67,000 American boots still on the ground after more than 11 years of war.

It's also expected that other NATO members with soldiers in Afghanistan could follow Britain's lead and begin an accelerated withdrawal of their forces in the coming months.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has often spoken about having coalition troops leave his country sooner than later as his national army and police are poised to assume all security responsibilities despite some trepidation from the Pentagon that his optimism may be premature.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Officials: Last of 33,000 Surge Troops Leave Afghanistan

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, a U.S. official confirmed.

With the departure of the last of the surge troops, there are now 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

Two years ago, President Obama announced a surge of troops to Afghanistan to help increase security amid the threat of Taliban insurgents.  In announcing the deployment of 33,000 additional troops, President Obama said the surge would be temporary.

A phased withdrawal plan was developed where 10,000 troops would leave Afghanistan by July 2011 and the remaining 23,000 would leave Afghanistan by the end of September 2012.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, traveling in New Zealand on Thursday, was expected to release a statement announcing an end to the surge.  He was expected to say that the surge completed its mission of providing better security to enable the full transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

NATO has agreed that all of its combat troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The U.S. official said that earlier Thursday the benchmark of 68,000 troops in Afghanistan had been reached, a development that had been anticipated for several days.

Just days ago, Pentagon figures showed there were 70,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, the deputy operations chief for NATO in Afghanistan, refused to pinpoint for Pentagon reporters when exactly the “surge recovery” would be completed.

Noble said “not many more” surge troops remained to leave Afghanistan and that the goal of reaching 68,000 by Oct. 1 was “very, very close.”   He added that the timing was “very dependent on strategic lift, weather -- and they change daily by sort of hundreds, if you know what I mean.”

Noble was referring to the last remaining troops that were still awaiting their flights out of Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

There has also been a significant reduction in military equipment that matches the reduction in troops.  Lt. Gen. John Terry, the commander of ISAF Joint Command, told Pentagon reporters that half of the 60,000 pieces of rolling stock and another 30,000 containers had already been shipped out of Afghanistan.

Many of the surge troops were sent to southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in its strongholds.   As troops pushed into areas long controlled by the Taliban, the number of U.S. and NATO casualties began to rise.

Fifty-seven percent of the almost-2,000 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan have occurred since the surge began in January 2010.

Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said that in mid-November he will make a recommendation for how many more U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan in 2013.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Leon Panetta in Afghanistan to Discuss Troop Drawdown, Security

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan Thursday to assess the situation on the ground as the U.S. and its allies inch closer to withdrawing all of their troops by 2014.

During his visit, Panetta will meet with U.S. and NATO military commanders, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, and Afghan leaders to discuss the recent uptick in violence and plans for a drawdown of troops.

"The key in the end is not going to be the U.N. or ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), it's going to be Afghans and their capability to be able to secure their country," the defense secretary said Thursday referring to the transfer of security control to Afghan forces once coalition forces leave.

Panetta will also visit American troops during his stay in Afghanistan.  This is his fourth trip to the country as defense secretary.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'It's Finished': Last of US Soldiers Leave Iraq

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- Camp Victory, once the site of Saddam Hussein's former palace, is a military ghost town now. A base where 70,000 Americans once lived, the base was eerie and barren as the last of the U.S. troops departed Iraq this week with a one-way ticket.

Army Pfc. Joseph Kelley, who was 11 when the war began in 2003, smiled wide as he patrolled Baghdad presumably for the last time Wednesday. He wasn't the only one.

Across the world, in Fort Hood, military families waited anxiously for the return of their loved ones. Five-year-old Scottie Mathews, clutching his "papa bear," had been counting the days for the return of his father, Army Staff Sgt. Ferren Mathews. Across town, Raitasha Green and her three children also waited patiently, as did Jennifer Smitt.

Mathews, Sgt. First Class Larry Green and Staff Sgt. James H. Courter are part of one of the last units to leave Iraq. Among them, they boast 11 tours of the war-torn country.

For Courter, 28, the final departure from Iraq marked the closure of a long and turbulent decade. Just one semester into college, Courter dropped out in 2001 to join the armed forces. His unit was one of the first to be deployed to Iraq when the United States invaded the country in 2003. Since then, Courter has been back four times.

Mathews knows very well what it's like to be in the line of fire. In his three tours in Iraq, the 38-year-old father of three has narrowly survived six bomb attacks. On his last deployment, he barely made it out alive. Mathews was inside a flaming vehicle that was attacked by insurgents, and later featured in one of their videos.

Mathews is thrilled to be coming home, but like many of his counterparts, he is troubled by the personal costs that both Americans and Iraqis have had to pay. Nearly 4,500 Americans and 104,000 Iraqis have died since the war began, and more than 32,000 Americans have been wounded.

The stories of sacrifice run deep among the thousands of soldiers who were deployed to Iraq.

On four tours to Iraq, Green has spent more than half his life in the past nine years away from home, missing birthdays, anniversaries and many "firsts" of his children.

"I look at it like a loss," he said. "I look at it as something that I will never have the opportunity to re-live: First steps, first words, first days of school, and there is no type of accomplishment that I will be able to achieve that will meet me with that satisfaction that I wasn't there to take part in."

To this day, the 33-year-old has continuous nightmares about being in Iraq.

One of his most vivid memories, he recalls, is of killing an 8-year-old boy who was throwing grenades over the military's compound wall in Fallujah.

But like many of his fellow soldiers, Green says without hesitation that if he would have to serve in Iraq, he would do it all over again, "the exact same way." The father of three says he is proud to have played a part in history and moving Iraq into a different direction, one he hopes will be for the better.

Iraq and the United States face a new chapter and a new set of challenges as U.S. troops withdraw. For the United States, the growing influence of Iran on one border and Syria on the other is a continuing cause of concern. Iraq continues to be rocked by Sunni-Shia, Kurdish-Iraqi violence and the absence of a strong, stable regime. The threat of al Qeada also remains, but U.S. generals say it's time for the Iraqi security forces to take over.

"We know that al Qaeda is going to do what they've always done," Gen. Lloyd Austin said. "They are going to continue to try to focus on the government and the Iraqi security forces. And the Iraqi security forces are going to have to deal with that, and I think they can."

"They are going to have to work hard at it. They are going to have to improve their intelligence. They are going to have to continue to work on their logistics as well, that's still a work in progress."

For U.S. soldiers leaving Iraq, this week is momentous.

"I stopped, took a second, looked around, smelled the air as only Iraq can smell, saw the sunset," Courter said, laughing, of what's expected to be his last departure from the country. "It was an indescribable feeling, knowing you had been here so much, all the cost of what we have done here. It's finished."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Only 8,000 US Troops in Iraq; Military Officials Hold Final Briefing

US Dept of Defense/Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden(WASHINGTON) -- In another sign Wednesday that the U.S. military is leaving Iraq, the Pentagon held its last video briefing from Iraq for Pentagon reporters. These are the sessions held in the Pentagon briefing room where reporters gather to ask questions of a senior military official remotely from Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, had the honor of conducting the last briefing from Iraq. In his opening remarks Helmick said he wanted to answer whether the U.S. presence in Iraq was worth it. “From where I sit, it was,” Helmick said, noting that the U.S. had improved security to hold democratic elections and because they will leave behind a trained and capable security force. 

The U.S. military numbers keep dropping: 8,000 Wednesday -- it was 9,000 on Monday -- and there are only 5,000 contractors left. Helmick compared those numbers to 2007 when there were a combined 300,000 U.S. military troops and contractors in Iraq.

The remaining troops are located on five bases and there are still less than 1,000 truckloads of material to ship out of Iraq by the end of December. Helmick said that drawdown preparations began 18 months ago and that in that timeframe U.S. military transportation vehicles have driven 16 million miles, or an amount equal to 482 trips around the world. He said there had been few security incidents that have occurred as the troops have gone south to Kuwait the past few months. 

As to what will happen security-wise after the U.S. leaves, Helmick said he wished he knew. “We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we -- that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country.”  He said the Iraqis providing for their internal security shouldn’t be a problem, but their ability to protect from an external threat is still a question mark, he noted that there is still a gap in providing for their air sovereignty because of the lack of aircraft. 

It’s the “the professionalism, confidence and esprit de corps of the Iraqi security forces” that he said would be the U.S. military’s greatest legacy in Iraq. “In closing, I want to thank every American who supported us in ways large and small as we built a country's military and we gave 28 million Iraqis really the greatest gift anybody can give, and that's their freedom.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


US to Transfer Camp Victory in Baghdad to Iraqi Control

US soldiers attend a special ceremony at Camp Victory, one of the last American bases in this country where the US military footprint is swiftly shrinking, in Baghdad, Iraq. Khalid Mohammed-Pool/Getty Images(BAGDAD) -- On Friday the huge U.S. military base in Baghdad known as Camp Victory will be transferred to Iraqi control in the most tangible sign yet that the U.S. is nearing the end of its eight-year presence in Iraq.

Built around Saddam Hussein’s grandiose and gaudy Al-Faw Palace complex in western Baghdad, near the international airport, the base was the largest of the 505 American military installations set up in Iraq and served as the headquarters for all U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Surrounded by 27 miles of concrete barriers, the base was one of the most visible reminders of the ongoing American military presence in Iraq.  At the height of the surge in 2007, the base was home to as many as 40,000 troops and 30,000 contractors.

There are no plans for a handover ceremony on Friday, though a solemn commemoration event was held Thursday to pay tribute to the sacrifices of American and Iraqi soldiers in the eight-year-long war.

The ceremony was held in the palace’s vast marble-lined rotunda hall used by Presidents Bush and Obama to address large numbers of American service members during their brief visits.

On Thursday Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Vice President Joe Biden addressed several hundred American and Iraqi troops gathered for the event to praise their sacrifice.

Biden said it was "because of you and the work that those of you in uniform have done, we are now able to end this war.” As of Thursday, 4,486 Americans have died in the war in Iraq.

White House officials told reporters traveling with Biden that Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had told Biden staffers that Camp Victory would be handed over to the Iraqi government on Friday. "Tonight is the last night U.S. troops will sleep there,” one White House official said.

Though the United States has until the end of the year to get all of its forces out of Iraq, American military commanders have said that the bulk of American forces will have left the country by mid-December.

The pace of the American drawdown increased dramatically in November; more than 20,000 troops have left Iraq in the past four weeks. There are currently 13,000 U.S. forces still in Iraq.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


13,000 US Troops Remain in Iraq As Drawdown Continues

US Department of Defense(BAGHDAD) -- As Vice President Biden visits Baghdad, he will find that the American military presence in Iraq has dropped significantly since his last visit.  The American military presence in Iraq now stands at 13,000 as the major logistical effort to get all American forces out of Iraq by the end of this year continues.

Just last week the total number of U.S. forces stood at 18,000.

The drawdown of all U.S. troops from Iraq began in September in accordance with the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement reached in 2008 by the Bush administration.

The numbers have decreased significantly since then. In mid-September there were approximately 45,000 American troops in Iraq. By the last week of October there were still 39,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. That means that 26,000 American service members have left Iraq since then.

U.S. military commanders have said that the bulk of all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by mid-December.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is working on another drawdown, the reduction by year’s end of 10,000 of the 33,000 surge troops sent there last year.

In June, President Obama announced that the surge forces would be reduced in two phases: 10,000 by the end of this year and the remaining 23,000 by the end of next summer.

The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has already been reduced by 4,000 by not replacing some units as they finished their deployments.   In keeping with the Obama administration’s original plan for the surge, the drawdown began in July when two Army National Guard battalions were not replaced when they returned home. However, there were no further troop reductions until last month when a Marine combat battalion that served in the restive Helmand Province was not replaced at the end of its deployment. Defense officials say the bulk of the remaining 6,000 troops coming home in December will be support troops, not combat forces.

When this year’s drawdown of 10,000 surge forces is completed in December, the level of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will remain at 91,000. The next reduction in surge troops likely won’t occur until the last possible moment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Military Official: ‘Vast Majority’ of US Troops Out of Iraq by Mid-December

US[dot]Army[dot]mil(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time, a U.S. military official is saying on the record that the “vast majority” of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by mid-December, ahead of the end-of-year withdrawal deadline.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr told Pentagon reporters Thursday that he could not provide specific timetables about the pace of the drawdown, though he revealed that most U.S. troops would be out by mid-December.  

“I think it’s clear to me that by the time we get to about mid-December or so, the vast majority of the U.S. forces in Iraq, we plan to have them withdrawn from Iraq by that time,” said Spoehr, who is the deputy commanding general for support for U.S. Forces-Iraq.

He emphasized that the huge effort to remove all American troops and their equipment by year’s end was “not a rush to the exits.” He characterized the troop reduction as taking place “in a measured fashion” and said the withdrawal plan is flexible enough to allow for any bad weather that might delay troop movements.

“My belief is that the U.S. forces will easily meet their commitments under the security agreement and have all of our forces withdrawn by [Dec. 31],” said Spoehr.

As an indicator of how fast the drawdown is taking place right now, Spoehr said there are now 33,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from 39,000 last week and 43,000 a month ago.

According to Spoehr, most departing troops are being flown out of Iraq to Kuwait via major air hubs, such as Baghdad and other bases. In Kuwait, they wait for the military aircraft that will transport them to the United States, though a small number are being flown directly back to the U.S. from Iraq aboard charter aircraft.

Some troops are also departing by ground to Kuwait, though they are usually the ones that will be providing security for the convoys.

At any given time, Spoehr said, there are 55 convoys of 30 to 50 vehicles shipping equipment out of the country -- that’s about 1,650 vehicles. He believes the only comparable operation of such size and scope occurred during World War II. Logistical teams keep track of every convoy’s movement in much the same way that air traffic controllers hand off control of planes in the sky.

Massive security efforts are being undertaken to protect the convoys as they proceed south to Kuwait. Planned routes are swept for roadside bombs prior to the vehicles hitting the road, and Iraqi security forces are providing security along the flanks of the convoy routes. Each convoy also has some American troops riding along in MRAP’s to provide force protection.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Says Talks with Iraq over Troop Pullout Ongoing

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- There's been no decision yet on how many American troops will remain in Iraq after the Dec. 31 deadline to remove virtually all forces from the country, according to Pentagon officials.

Reports surfaced over the weekend that because Baghdad was refusing to grant U.S. soldiers immunity beyond 2011, the military had decided that only 160 personnel would remain to protect the American Embassy.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday that there's been no final decision yet on what the U.S. military presence will entail beginning on Jan. 1, 2012.

Little told reporters that the only thing settled at the moment is that the U.S. has an agreement with Iraq to draw down forces by the end of the year.

The troop level is slightly less than 40,000 and more soldiers are expected to be withdrawn on a week-to-week basis as Washington and Baghdad continue to work on what the final number will be at midnight Dec. 31.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iraq: No Immunity for Prosecution for US Trainers after December

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- The prospects of the U.S. keeping a modest military force in Iraq after the Dec. 31 deadline to withdraw nearly all troops was thrown into question Tuesday when leaders in Baghdad suggested that American soldiers would no longer have immunity from prosecution as of 2012.

Washington has long been working under the assumption that immunity from prosecution was a crucial component of the pact that was signed with Iraq three years ago involving any U.S. soldiers who stay behind to train national forces.

However, Iraqi leaders, after a meeting with President Jalal Talabani, said that while they would welcome training and military equipment,  "there is no need to give immunity for trainers."

This could turn out to be a deal breaker.  Americans have been guaranteed certain protections since the war began in 2003 so that they would not be unfairly accused of crimes while engaged in legitimate wartime activities.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis have still have not indicated how many U.S. trainers will be needed after the December deadline, along with how long they'll have to stay and what duties they'll perform.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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