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The Race to 1 September

While deployed to Iraq, the 1st Armored Division was tasked with training, mentoring,
and assisting Government of Iraq security forces while simultaneously executing
a large-scale drawdown.

On 27 February 2009, President Barack Obama directed the Department of Defense to reduce
the total number of military personnel deployed in Iraq to 50,000 by 1 September 2010. The directed
cap of 50,000 troops in Iraq required the 1st Armored Division, U.S. Division–Center (USD–C), to reduce its footprint from 5 brigade combat teams (BCTs) and 1 combat aviation brigade (CAB) to 2 BCTs without a dedicated CAB. This reduction took USD–C from about 19,000 troops to about 7,000.

The purpose of this article is to provide an example of a successful retrograde of forces from a combat theater. The techniques that the 1st Armored Division used in Iraq can possibly be replicated as the drawdown in Afghanistan is being planned. The challenge that must be met is how to maintain focus on partnership operations while building and executing a drawdown plan and providing the division command group the flexibility required to react to the ever-changing operational environment (OE). This article focuses on how USD–C built operational flexibility into the plan and how the division used that flexibility to react to change in the OE.

The Background
The drawdown plan executed in Iraq can be understood only within the strategic context of time.
President Obama had decided to increase the focus of wartime operations in Afghanistan, resulting in additional forces being deployed to Afghanistan from home station locations.

The timing of the surge deployment coincided with drawdown operations that were already planned in Iraq, as directed in the Iraqi Security Agreement approved by the Iraqi Presidential Council on 4 December 2008. This agreement required that all U.S. forces exit the country no later than 31 December 2011. President Obama added the further requirement that no more than 50,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq after 1 September 2010. Consequently, the strategic defense transportation system had to be prepared to support the drawdown operations in Iraq while simultaneously surging troops and supplies into Afghanistan.

The OE and mission in Iraq also required that U.S. forces remain involved in training, mentoring, and
assisting Government of Iraq (GOI) security forces up until the last possible moment. These operations served two goals in support of one end state. The first goal was to help the GOI security forces for as long as possible until the final drawdown took place. This was done to increase the likelihood that the security forces would be able to deal with the internal security situation in Iraq and deter possible aggressive action from external actors after the U.S. troops’ departure.

The second goal was to increase U.S. situational awareness of the OE during operations. Without having troops partnered with the GOI security forces, U.S. commanders would have a severely degraded understanding of the security situation on the ground. The lack of understanding would hinder their ability to direct the drawdown in a manner that simultaneously achieved the directed benchmarks and reduced risk to the force.

The Waterfall
The drawdown was frequently described as a waterfall because, when it was depicted in a bar graph, the precipitous drop in troop numbers over time resembled a waterfall. From the high of about 19,000 troops, the division shed about 12,000 troops in 6 months. This had to be done in a way that avoided gaps in partnering operations and maintained pressure on the enemy. Some transportation assets had to be shared with the two other divisions in theater and the separate corps units, which were all going through similar personnel and equipment reductions.

The primary USD–C focus was on elements in the Baghdad OE since there was only one brigade in
the Al Anbar Province and it would remain in place until sometime in 2011. Although it would lose many “below-the-line units” (units that are smaller than a brigade), the mission for an advise and assist brigade (AAB) would remain until well into 2011.

When the plan was first developed, USD–C leaders decided that brigades would be pulled from the area of operations in two ways. The first way was to simply redeploy identified units at the completion of their 1-year tour and not backfill them. This is referred to as “off-ramping.”

An example of off-ramping is the deployment of the 1st AAB, 3d Infantry Division. When it arrived in theater, it essentially conducted a relief in place with both the 30th Heavy BCT and the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, while the remaining BCTs in the USD–C OE shifted their battlespaces to cover the rest of Baghdad Province. The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade conducted a relief in place with the 1st CAB and then transferred from USD–C control to U.S. Forces–Iraq (USF–I) control as the theater CAB. This was significant because, as the pool of available rotary-wing assets shrank, one
CAB executed the work of three CABs and the assets were direct-support assets, which could not be tasked directly by the division.

The second way brigades would be pulled from the area of operations before 1 September was simple and straightforward. The two remaining BCTs, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division (4–2 SBCT), and the 2d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (2–10 IBCT), would thin their lines, battalion by battalion, while simultaneously transferring the battlespace to the remaining BCTs in Baghdad Province. The thinning of the lines was to begin shortly after the parliamentary elections were completed.

Operational Flexibility
Once the initial plan was established, operational flexibility became the priority so that the senior commanders could react as required to the changing battlefield. This was done in three ways. The first was to create a new strategic fixed-wing hub to alleviate pressure on the Kuwait intermediate staging base. The second was to leverage commercial carrier surface assets so that more military transportation units could be redeployed in support of the drawdown. The final way was to turn Taji Air Base into a permanent fixed-wing hub to relieve pressure on the stretched rotary-wing fleet.

With the drawdown in Iraq taking place concurrently with the surge in Afghanistan, it became clear that Kuwait was a chokepoint for all redeploying forces. The number of troops that could flow through Kuwait was capped by the housing capacity for transients and the number of commercial carrier aircraft that could be contracted to provide support on a given day.

Al Asad Airfield was identified as a fixed-wing hub that could be used to redeploy a large portion of the force because of its existing infrastructure and transient billeting capability. Marine Corps forces had used Al Asad for that purpose when Multi-National Forces–West redeployed. The only difference was scale. In order to support the requirement, multiple improvements would have to be made in concert with the Al Asad Base Control Group, the expeditionary sustainment command, USF–I, the U.S. Army Central customs program manager, and U.S. Air Forces Central.

The primary methods used to increase throughput at Al Asad were to leverage technological capability and apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to create the most efficient process possible. These methods focused on the longest part of the redeployment process, the customs clearance that is required for all forces leaving the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

By changing the customs clearance process from a 100-percent hands-on examination to a 90-percent backscatter screening and only a 10-percent hands-on examination, the throughput level was dramatically increased. Once the technology was in place, throughput could be increased by decreasing the overall process timeline. USF–I sent out a Lean Six Sigma expert to study the process and develop a more efficient process. When the new process was coupled with the technological improvements, the throughput was raised to the level required to support the drawdown.

Another way that operational flexibility was created was by using commercial carriers, including local national-owned carriers and multinational corporation carriers. The drawdown cap of 50,000 personnel placed a significant restriction on the amount of logistics support that could be provided by military logisticians. Before the drawdown, more than five logistics battalions supported U.S. military operations in Baghdad. After 1 September 2010, only one battalion would remain. In order to increase operational lift capability, local carriers were contracted to provide lift capability and to
mitigate the identified shortfall.

The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) had been working for many years
to open the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to U.S. forces’ redeployment cargo in order to reduce the strain on the ports in Kuwait and Iraq. It had also been working with servicing carriers to provide a door-to-door service for units. What this meant was that the contracted carriers would go all the way to a redeploying unit’s forward location and pick up its cargo. The carriers would handle all transportation requirements from that point forward.

The 1st Armored Division made the most of this by coordinating with SDDC to embed a redeployment
support team with the division transportation section and pushing it out to all redeploying units as required. This enabled the division to keep forces partnered for a longer period of time since the requirement for a port support activity was reduced.

The final manner in which operational flexibility was created was by opening Taji Air Base as a tactical fixed-wing airfield. Before the drawdown, the airfield had been opened intermittently to allow for Air Force fixed-wing assets to redeploy troops. When the division was no longer supported by a dedicated CAB, it became obvious that rotary-wing assets, particularly CH–47 Chinooks, would be severely taxed.

Opening up Taji as a permanent fixed-wing hub had two effects. The first was that it reduced the requirement being placed on CH–47s, allowing them to be dedicated to other actions. The second was that it allowed the redeploying units stationed at Taji to bypass a layer of the redeployment process; they would not have to fly to Baghdad in order to meet up with the Air Force assets that would take them to Al Asad. This enabled the commanders to keep their force focused on partnering operations for the longest amount of time possible.

The second order effects of working to create operational flexibility through multiple methods provided additional, unexpected benefits. For example, with Taji being a tactical fixed-wing hub and Al Asad being a strategic hub, the Air Force was able to work more economically thanks to the significantly reduced distance by air from Taji to Al Asad versus Taji to Kuwait. This increase in efficiency condensed the redeployment timeline and allowed troops to remain engaged in partnered
operations for longer.

The Election Has No Clear Winner
On 7 March 2010, the Iraqi people went to the polls to elect a new national government. Although the election itself was successful (the population was able to safely exercise its right to vote), it resulted in a near-tie among the leading parties and months of deadlock. The national government was finally formed on 11 November 2010.

The political deadlock changed the strategic environment in which USF–I and USD–C were operating. The senior commanders came to the understanding that the “thinning of the lines” plan was no longer appropriate. Instead, they decided to delay the redeployment of certain units in order to assist the GOI security forces in providing security during the political stalemate.

Two USD–C BCTs had to delay their redeployments. (Neither stayed longer than 365 days.) The 2–10 IBCT maintained its mission, and a revised, condensed flow of forces out of the theater was planned. The 4–2 SBCT offered to make use of the enhanced mobility that a Stryker brigade provides and drive out of Iraq instead of fly. This extended the amount of time that the BCT had to conduct partnership operations. The operation became known as “the Last Patrol,” and the 4–2 SBCT was the last combat unit to leave Iraq. All remaining troops would be there to advise and assist.

The plan to redeploy 2–10 IBCT out of theater was driven by partnering concerns, the return of occupied real estate in Baghdad to the GOI, and the requirement to redeploy the brigade before it reached 365 days in theater. The operational flexibility that USD–C had built into the initial plan allowed for a change like this to be made at the last minute.

With the 4–2 SBCT conducting the Last Patrol, the overall requirement for units to fly out of Al Asad and Baghdad was substantially decreased. This increased the availability of both Air Force tactical fixed-wing assets and commercial airlift assets out of Al Asad. In the end, the 2–10 IBCT’s redeployment was shifted to a later date and the amount of time it needed to leave the theater was condensed, meeting the commander’s intent.

The 4–2 SBCT’s Last Patrol provided USD–C with multiple first-order benefits. The first was that, since the patrol required a large portion of its combat power to safely move to Kuwait over the roads, the brigade maintained its combat power until the last possible moment. This increased USD–C’s combat power during the political stalemate while still meeting the 50,000 cap and having the troops out of Iraq by 1 September.

The second effect was that it substantially reduced the logistics effort required within Iraq to support the redeployment. The patrol essentially halved the number of Air Force flights required, reduced the number of required rotary-wing flights to near zero, and allowed the expeditionary sustainment command to provide lift capability to other units redeploying.

When 1 September arrived, USD–C had accomplished its tasks to reduce its footprint from about
19,000 to 7,000 troops and redeploy or turn in over 10,000 pieces of equipment. It had done so while maintaining its focus on partnering operations, supporting the Iraqi national elections, and providing operational flexibility to senior commanders to respond to situations as they arose. These accomplishments laid the ground work for the next drawdown that took USF–I from 50,000 to 0 troops by 31 December 2011.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert King is currently attending the Army War College. He served as the
1st Armored Division G–4 and U.S. Division–Center G–4 in Baghdad in 2010. He holds a bachelor’s
degree in business management from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, and Command and General Staff Officer’s Course.

Captain Leonard B. Della-Moretta III was the assistant division transportation officer for the 1st
Armored Division and U.S. Division–Center. A Transportation Corps officer who was branch detailed to Infantry, he holds a B.A. degree in political science and international relations from the University of Kansas.

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