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September 1, 2009

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American troops prepare for early withdrawal from Iraq

THE United States military is packing up to leave Iraq in what has been deemed the largest movement of manpower and equipment in modern military history - shipping out more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment from tanks to antennas along with a force the size of a small city.

The massive operation already under way a year ahead of the August 31, 2010, deadline to remove all US combat troops from Iraq shows the US military has picked up the pace of the planned exit from Iraq.

The goal is to withdraw tens of thousands of troops and about 60 percent of equipment out of Iraq by the end of next March, Brigadier General Heidi Brown, a deputy commander charged with overseeing the withdrawal, told The Associated Press in one of the first detailed accounts of how the US military plans to leave Iraq.

Convoys carrying everything from armored trucks to radios have been rolling near daily through southern Iraq to Kuwait and the western desert to Jordan since US President Barack Obama announced the deadline to remove combat troops, leaving up to 50,000 troops under a US-Iraqi security agreement until the end of 2011.

First out, Brown said, will be the early withdrawal of an Army combat brigade of about 5,000. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said a brigade would leave by the end of the year, months ahead of schedule, if violence in Iraq did not escalate.

That will be followed by the Marine Corps, which has already shipped out about half of its 22,000 troops and more than 50 percent of its equipment since May. "In about six months or less, they will be gone," she said.

The US military also plans to shrink the contractor force from roughly 130,000 to between 50,000 and 75,000 by September 2010. Those remaining would pick up additional duties from departing troops, according to Brown.

The nearly 300 American bases and outposts currently remaining in Iraq will shrink to 50 or less by the president's deadline.

The military anticipates keeping the majority of its 130,000 combat troops currently in Iraq until two months after the January 16 national elections, then rapidly drawing down troops and equipment in the weeks that follow.

"We would stay steady with troop strength until after the election plus 60 days," Brown said. "You don't know who will win the government and how long it will take to seat the government."


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