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Corps Support Group Logistics at the Iraq Border

In September 2004, a 13th Corps Support Command (COSCOM) fragmentary order tasked the 167th Corps Support Group (CSG) to monitor the supplies being shipped from supply centers in northern Turkey to coalition forces in Iraq. The 167th CSG, a New Hampshire Army Reserve unit, deployed to the Ibrahim Khalil Customs Facility near the city of Zakho, Iraq, which is located at the Habur River border between Turkey and Iraq. On the Turkish side, the crossing is known as Habur Gate.

‘ Eyes on the Ground’

Border operations at the Ibrahim Khalil facility had been estab-lished during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 1, when the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was re-sponsible for that area of operations. The 167th CSG arrived at the site shortly after Task Force Olympia, the land manager of the area, had moved its rear area operations center from the facility and reassigned the lieutenant colonel who had been in charge. This left a void in the senior leadership on the ground.

The 13th COSCOM commander had immediately tasked the 167th CSG to fill the void so that he would have “eyes on the ground” and eventually could assume ownership of the northern entry point for ground lines of communication. Before that time, the Task Force Olympia commander provided the officer in charge (OIC) at Ibrahim Khalil and the 13th COSCOM commander was responsible for movement control operations. So when the rear area operations center left, it was logical that the 13th COSCOM take responsibility for the OIC function as well. It was a perfect job for the CSG, which was already responsible for corps logistics in the northern third of Iraq.

Movement Control

Movement control of more than 200 trucks destined for coalition forces each day was a shared responsibility of the 167th CSG’s 99th Movement Control Team (MCT) and a Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) MCT. Although both teams were responsible for movement control, each relied on the other to make the mission work.

The 99th MCT consisted of 12 Active Army Soldiers, and the KBR team consisted of 6 “expats” (expatriates) and 16 or so Iraqi workers. (Expats were KBR employees hired from all over the world. They typically held positions of greater authority than local hires.) Together, the two MCTs staged the coalition-destined trucks after they had made their way through the Iraqi customs process.

The coalition trucks were divided into three categories. The first category included trucks carrying sustainment fuel (JP–8, diesel, or motor gasoline [MOGAS]). The second included trucks loaded with sustainment cargo that would be delivered to coalition locations on the original trucks from Turkey. The third category included trucks that came across the border carrying sustainment cargo that would be offloaded at one of the 17 Turkish trucking company yards in nearby Zakho to await Iraqi trucks that would deliver it to its final destination.

Many Turkish truck drivers were reluctant to make the trip to the cargo’s final destination because they were concerned about their safety and felt they were not getting paid enough to drive the long, rough route to its end. Incentives such as increased pay or transit stamps, which allowed them to return immediately to Turkey rather than wait up to 14 days, did not persuade many of the Turkish drivers to drive farther south than Zakho. This led many Iraqi entrepreneurs to form their own trucking companies.

Three-Loop Transportation System

The 99th MCT had overall responsibility for manifesting and staging the coalition trucks for movement from Ibrahim Khalil to Logistics Support Area (LSA) Diamondback—the first stop in a three-loop transportation system. (Movement from LSA Diamondback to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Speicher was the second loop; movement from FOB Speicher to LSA Anaconda was the third loop.)

Sustainment fuel trucks were staged within a guarded, fenced area at the customs facility. Turkish trucks carrying other sustainment cargo to its final destination were staged in one of the 17 trucking company yards in Zakho after they passed through the customs facility. When the Turkish trucking companies arranged for local Iraqi trucks to deliver the cargo farther south, that cargo was transloaded to Iraqi trucks and the trucks were staged in a mud-filled area outside the customs facility, known as the “Cowboy Yard,” to await staging in a U.S. convoy to Tikrit, Balad, or Fallujah.

Each convoy could be a combination of the three basic categories or 100 percent of one type. Based on priorities set by the COSCOM, the 99th MCT commander decided what went in each convoy. The MCT commander met with the convoy commanders after dinner each night to go over the makeup of the night convoys and provide them the latest intelligence update. The number of sustainment trucks that could be escorted depended solely on the number of gun trucks brought up the previous night. It was the responsibility of the convoy commander, typically an E–6 or E–7, to escort his charges approximately 100 miles to LSA Diamondback in Mo-sul, Iraq. For the most part, the trip was safe because 80 percent of the route was above the “green line” in northern Iraq. The southern 20 percent, which included the streets of Mosul, represented a greater challenge for the convoy commanders because of threats from insurgent activities. At LSA Diamondback, the sustainment trucks would be restaged for movement to FOB Speicher and assigned a different escort crew for the trip to LSA Anaconda.

It sometimes took 24 days for a truck to be loaded at a fuel terminal in Turkey with JP–8 fuel, processed through Turkish and Iraqi customs, staged in a U.S. convoy, escorted to FOB Speicher and on to LSA Anaconda, downloaded at a supply point, and make its way back to Turkey in a retrograde convoy. This protracted amount of time was one of the many complaints the MCTs and CSG received from the Turkish drivers.

Convoy Commander Duties

The convoy commander had one of the most difficult jobs in the theater. He could hope that the trucks moved to their destinations without incident, but he also had to be prepared to deal with myriad situations that could occur along the route. Mechanical problems with Turkish trucks, flat tires, drunken Turkish drivers, trucks that could not keep up with the convoy, and fights among the Turkish drivers were some of the minor problems that occurred. More serious problems included insurgent activities, such as improvised explosive device (IED) encounters, vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) attacks, and small arms fire.

The convoy commander also had to worry about who would infiltrate or drop out of his convoy. Seldom did he arrive at his destination with the same trucks that he had at the beginning of the convoy. The Turkish drivers did not follow the convoy rules and sometimes stopped to visit friends or relatives along the way. If a Turkish truck driver stopped to visit a relative on Monday night, he would not hesitate to join Tuesday night’s convoy. Then, when he arrived at LSA Diamondback, he would not be on the Tuesday night manifest, causing the convoy commander unnecessary headaches.

Empty fuel or sustainment trucks made their way back to Zakho using the basic three-loop system in reverse. Where they offloaded their supplies determined how long it took to get back. The drivers were sometimes tempted to leave a convoy and try to make it back to the border without U.S. escorts because they were no longer constrained by their loads. There were plenty of bootleg “gas stations” along the main supply route (MSR), so the drivers could easily refuel en route. Some made it back safely without an escort, but others were captured or killed.

The life of a Turkish truck driver was not enviable. They were constantly exposed to IEDs and VBIEDs, and ambushes were a constant threat to their livelihood. However, through persistence and acceptance of the harsh living conditions, they delivered hun-dreds of thousands of loads to coalition forces. Some people would call them heroes because of the work they did for the small amount of money they made and the little recognition they received.

Checkpoint Operations

In northern Iraq (above the green line), the Peshmerga (the term used by Kurds to refer to freedom fighters) and Iraqi National Guard (ING) soldiers continually manned checkpoints for returning trucks. These checkpoints were both permanent and temporary. Having temporary checkpoints added the element of surprise to potential infiltrators. Near the border, additional temporary checkpoints were set up to monitor the trucks until the Iraqi Customs Facility Police could take charge of them and move them to staging lots. Initially, the staging lots were areas that ran alongside the MSR for about 30 miles. Use of these lots made it difficult to control the trucks and offered little security for the trucks or their drivers. Eventually, the Iraqi Customs Facility Police were able to stage the trucks in lots on the access road to the border crossing. Although these lots provided limited security for approximately 5,000 trucks and drivers on any given day, they were mud- and litter-filled and had no lighting or sanitary facilities.

After arriving in Zakho, drivers had to inch their way to the border for an average of 10 days. Some trucks, such as fuel trucks and sustainment supply trucks, had priority. The first Turkish checkpoint was always the “hiccup” that kept trucks from returning quickly. The Turkish Gendarmie, or military police, often held up the line because of “manpower issues.” Some of their own country-men tried every trick in the book to smuggle prohibited items, such as gasoline, cigarettes, and sugar. Banned items were found in spare tires, hidden compartments, or false gas tanks. In some cases, no attempt was made to hide prohibited items—they sometimes were found lying openly in the bay of the truck. Iraqi Customs Facility Police inspected all returning trucks but, unfortunately, did not catch all of those containing contraband.

Foreign Area Officer Duties

At the beginning of the 167th CSG’s deployment, the duties of its OIC were not very well defined. In some instances, he was able to influence the number of gun trucks that the CSG provided to the MCT commander and KBR MCT foreman and therefore affect the amount of sustainment cargo that could be moved. However, the OIC’s duties soon evolved into diplomatic and political duties rather than those of a typical OIC.

Because he was the senior COSCOM representative at the border, the 167th CSG OIC also acted as the foreign area officer (FAO) when necessary. Operations on the Turkey-Iraq border would have proceeded without a U.S. presence, but both countries welcomed the U.S. military, especially since 15 percent of the goods coming from Turkey were for the coalition forces.

FAO duties included participating in a weekly border meeting run by Turkish and Iraqi customs personnel and representing the U.S. military at senior-level meetings. For example, the FAO was one of the senior Army representatives at the first trilateral security meeting of representatives of Turkey, Iraq, and the United States held in Ankara, Turkey, on 30 November 2004. At that meeting, senior personnel from the foreign affairs departments of all three governments discussed ways to improve security for Turkish truck drivers—a topic that was at the forefront of the Turkish press. U.S. Army representatives addressed concerns affecting coalition requirements and reinforced the coalition’s concern for the safety of Turkish truck drivers. The U.S. presence demonstrated that the U.S. Army at the tactical level cared about the Turkish truck drivers’ security.

FAO duties alone, such as meeting with Turkish and Iraqi customs personnel and meeting with employers, family, and friends of missing or deceased Turkish truck drivers, occupied a large part of the OIC’s day. These meetings, and the relationships formed as a result, went far toward maintaining a steady flow of drivers and supplies across the border. In the future, the COSCOM, and specifically the CSG that supports the northern third of Iraq, would benefit by maintaining representation at the Turkish and Iraqi border crossing.

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Shea, Jr., USAR, is the Officer in Charge of the 801st Quartermaster Detachment (Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants) in Brockton, Massachusetts. When this article was written, he was the 167th Corps Support Group (CSG) Officer in Charge at the Ibrahim Khalil Customs Facility in Zakho, Iraq. He has a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

Colonel Andrew M. Barclay, USAR, is the Commander of the 167th CSG in Londonderry, New Hampshire. While deployed to Zakho, Iraq, he served as the Deputy Commander of the 167th CSG. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the Army War College.