CAMP VICTORY: The withdrawal of American combat troops and equipment from Iraq is 60 percent complete two months ahead of a deadline that will serve as a precursor for a complete US military pullout.
Camp Victory, a giant sprawling base on the edge of Baghdad airport, is one of eight sites where American soldiers are sorting through the mass of hardware and supplies that must either be taken home, sent to Afghanistan, or destroyed.
Although the military is anxious to avoid accusations that it is "cutting and running" from Iraq as operations in Afghanistan take precedence, US troop numbers are steadily falling and just 50,000 will remain beyond August 31.
"We are right-sizing the force," Brigadier General Gus Perna, the man in charge of the drawdown, told AFP at Camp Victory in a giant yard filled with 330 vehicles headed for neighbouring Kuwait to be moved out of the country.
"Over 32,000 pieces of rolling stock have been retrograded out of Iraq since February 2009," he said, referring to MRAP (Mine-resistant, armour-protected) and Humvee troop carriers used since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The vehicles are being driven south into Kuwait before they are moved to Afghanistan or back to the United States. Around 800,000 other pieces of equipment have so far left Iraq in cargo containers.
Camp Victory is the central hub for movement operations and combines with four locations in northern Iraq, one in the west of the country and two in the south where equipment is being processed and tracked for eventual shipping.
There are currently 84,000 US troops in Iraq, but President Barack Obama`s decision to pull all combat soldiers out means 34,000 are readying themselves to leave while a training and advisory force stays behind after August.
It takes one hour for a vehicle to be processed and it will stay there for three to five days before heading south in a convoy. Between 30 and 40 vehicles leave Camp Victory each day, US logistics officers said.
When combined with the seven other sites, however, around 3,500 vehicles have left the country in June so far, the highest monthly total this year.
An Iraqi military official told AFP that Baghdad is happy with the pace of the pullout of combat troops and stressed that important equipment was being given to local forces.
"The withdrawal has reached more than 60 percent of its requirements and there have been no problems so far," said defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari.
Excess US equipment with an estimated worth of 91.4 million dollars has so far been handed over to the Iraqi government, and other supplies such as rifle ammunition will be left because it is uneconomical to ship it to America.
This is in addition to hardware and facilities that the United States has refurbished under the two-billion-dollar Iraqi Security Force Fund approved by Washington.
Although some equipment is being given to the Iraqis there is also a massive amount of material that the US military machine is destroying because it is deemed "unserviceable".
At Camp Victory, clapped-out military trucks were being stripped down and cut up and sold off to local scrap metal dealers, while dozens of computers and printers were being destroyed in a giant shredding machine.
Between 50 and 70 40-foot and 20-foot containers filled with equipment are being lifted by giant magnetic cranes onto lorries bound for Kuwait each day.
With deaths of Iraqi civilians and security forces still in the hundreds each month, there remains concern that a dangerous security vacuum could ensue when US combat troops pull out in just over two months` time.
But Michael O`Hanlon, a national security and defence policy expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the August 31 withdrawal should not be seen as a cause for concern.
"I`m generally optimistic," he said.
"The end of the `combat mission` is partly a semantic change and the 50,000 remaining US troops will still be quite capable.
"The fact that we have been out of the cities for a year already suggests the drawdown is
eminently feasible," O`Hanlon added.
BDST: 0843 HRS , June 27, 2010