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.
Colonel Shea stands on the balcony of the 99th MCT
headquarters in the Ibrahim Khalil Customs Facility.
In the distance
are bridges across the Habur River over which sustainment
trucks travel between Turkey and Iraq.
Movement control of more than 200 trucks destined for coalition
forces each day was a shared responsibility of the 167th
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
escorts wait to begin nighttime convoy operations.
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
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
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.
fuel trucks wait in what was often a 20-mile backup
to pass through the Ibrahim Khalil Customs Facility
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
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
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.