Strategy Page has an excellent piece on the big troop rotation nearing completion in Iraq.
The 18th Airborne Corps headquarters, the 42nd Infantry Division (a National Guard outfit), the 3rd Infantry Division and the 2nd Marine MEU (Division) have replaced the 3rd Corps headquarters, the 1st Infantry Division, the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Marine MEU (Division). American troops strength will go down to 138,000 by March. The increased traffic from over 250,000 troops moving in and out over the last few months has caused an increase in traffic accidents, although combat injuries have been declining since the battle of Fallujah last November. Most of the heavy equipment belonging to units remains in Iraq, to ease up the logistics burden. The troops either return to the equipment they left behind when they came over, or are issued new equipment and weapons, to the replace those being left behind, when they get home.
I had wondered about the increase in traffic deaths of late. This seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation.
The lessened traffic load of not swapping out heavy equipment when you swap out troops makes a great deal of sense, but it also probably leaves the new troops holding their noses when they reach the sandbox. I heard that the soldiers in the second Stryker Brigade wanted to know when the last time the first Stryker Brigade’s vehicles, which were left for the second brigade, had been washed. They apparently hadn’t been washed for a year.
Then the first brigade went back to Fort Lewis and took over the Strykers that the second brigade had been keeping squeaky-clean all along.
For what it’s worth, when the third Stryker Brigade deploys this fall, it will be taking its own vehicles with it.
The Strategy Page article ends with
Depending on what sort of treaties are negotiated with the new Iraqi government, some pre-positioned equipment for American combat units may stay in Iraq. Iran is still seen as a threat to Iraq, and just the presence of pre-positioned American equipment is often enough to give frisky neighbors pause. Kuwait has been the host to several combat brigades worth of American equipment for over a decade. Again, that provides more practical experience about maintaining the stuff in a desert environment. There are also lots of Kuwaitis who have experience maintaining the gear.
The article noted that this practice is similar to the REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany) program of the 1980s. I think we’ll have a significant number of troops and airmen stationed in Iraq for years (or decades) to come, but a REturn of FORces to the Middle East program, with a significant amount of pre-placed heavy equipment, wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.