Operation Iraqi Freedom:

Actions Needed to Enhance DOD Planning for Reposturing of U.S. Forces from Iraq

GAO-08-930: Published: Sep 10, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2008.

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The redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, a process the Department of Defense (DOD) refers to as "reposturing," will be a massive and expensive effort. As of March 2008, for example, there were about 173,000 pieces of equipment in Iraq, worth about $16.5 billion, that will need to be returned to the United States. The redeployment process following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a much shorter war, lasted at least 14 months. DOD guidance emphasizes the importance of early planning for this redeployment process. GAO performed this work under the Comptroller General's Authority. GAO examined the (1) status of logistical planning for reposturing U.S. forces from Iraq and associated assumptions and (2) extent to which DOD established roles and responsibilities for managing and executing retrograde from Iraq. GAO also identified issues that DOD will need to consider in its reposture planning. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from over 20 DOD organizations in the United States and Kuwait.

While the pace and overall extent of reposturing in Iraq is yet to be determined, various defense commands began planning for reposturing in fall 2007, and DOD began coordinating these individual planning efforts in May 2008 to develop a logistical framework based on three key assumptions. The result of this planning was an order published by Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) that contained the process for reposturing units, materiel, and equipment and established working groups to continue the planning and seek solutions to emerging challenges. DOD's three key assumptions are: (1) any reposturing initiative will be based on MNF-I and Department of State assessments of conditions on the ground; (2) there will be sufficient lead time to refine reposture plans once an order with a specific timetable and force posture in Iraq is issued; and (3) the reposturing of forces will be deliberate and gradual, predicated on a 180-day process for units leaving Iraq and a sustained flow of no more than 2.5 brigades' worth of equipment and materiel out of Iraq each month. While efforts have been made to synchronize planning for reposturing, DOD, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and the military services have not yet clearly established all of the roles and responsibilities for managing and executing the retrograde of materiel and equipment from Iraq. Although CENTCOM has designated U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) as executive agent for synchronizing retrograde of materiel and equipment from the Iraqi theater of operations, no unified or coordinated structure exists to account for the roles of the variety of teams and units engaged in retrograde operations. Until recently ARCENT did not have operational control over the two units responsible for retrograding the bulk of equipment in Iraq. We identified the following nine issues that DOD should consider as it develops a comprehensive plan for reposturing U.S. forces from Iraq: (1) agreed-upon guidance for environmental cleanup and the disposition of property, which could affect the time and cost of closing bases in Iraq; (2) guidance and plans for the reposturing of contractors from Iraq; (3) accountability and disposition of contractor-managed government-owned property; (4) the possibility of restrictive conditions on the use of facilities in Kuwait and other neighboring countries; (5) availability of power-washing equipment and stands, called wash racks, and the number of customs inspectors in Kuwait; (6) capacity of military transports and convoy security assets, including limits on the main supply route; (7) increased demand for access to mental health care providers; (8) infrastructure requirements of returning units; and (9) requirements for training and equipment reset to restore readiness. DOD has begun to address these issues. While the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 directs DOD to brief the congressional defense committees on certain issues related to reposturing, DOD is not required to provide the specific information identified in our report. We believe that without more specific reporting from DOD, Congress may not be able to effectively exercise its oversight responsibilities.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To enhance its ability to exercise its oversight responsibilities, Congress may wish to consider directing DOD to include in its briefings submitted in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, specific details on the status of its reposturing planning and how it intends to mitigate specific reposturing issues, including those we identified in this report, as well as other challenges the department envisions as it proceeds with its reposturing efforts.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress never directed DOD to include in its briefings submitted in accordance with the NDAA for FY 2008 specific details on the status of its reposturing efforts. Moreover, a review of the DOD briefings--which took the form of quarterly reports that DOD submitted to Congress entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq"--show that neither the issue of reposturing in general nor the specific issues related to the reposturing effort referred to in GAO-08-930 were ever addressed. Specifically, since the issuance of GAO-08-930, DOD issued 7 subsequent "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" reports, none of which addressed the issues we outlined.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can efficiently and effectively retrograde its materiel and equipment from Iraq, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with CENTCOM and the military departments, should take steps to clarify the chain of command over logistical operations in support of the retrograde effort. These steps should address not only the Army field support brigades but also the theater property and retrograde support teams.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Subsequent to this report, DOD and CENTCOM created several organizations to facilitate the retrograde of equipment from Iraq and support unity of effort. Specifically, Multinational Forces-Iraq created a Drawdown Fusion Center to provide a strategic picture of drawdown operations, identify potential obstacles, address strategic issues, and assist in the development of drawdown policy and guidance. Additionally, U.S. Army Central' Support Element-Iraq assisted in synchronizing and coordinating the drawdown-related activities of several Army organizations. Finally, the Department of the Army, with Army Materiel Command as the lead agency, created a Responsible Reset Task Force to facilitate the provision of disposition instructions for material retrograding out of Iraw and synchronize those instructions to facilitate the reset of Army equipment.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the military departments, should correct the incompatibility weaknesses in the various data systems used to maintain visibility over equipment and materiel while they are in transit.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, GAO issued a report entitled, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Enhance DOD Planning for Reposturing of U.S. Forces from Iraq. During this review of DOD's planning for the drawdown from Iraq, we found that there was no unified or coordinated chain of command to define the roles and responsibilities of the variety of organizations engaged in retrograde operations, and that a significant manifestation of this lack of unity of command was the use of incompatible data systems to maintain visibility and accountability over equipment as it is retrograded. We recommended that the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the military departments, correct the incompatibility weaknesses in the various data systems used to maintain visibility over equipment and materiel while they are in transit. DOD concurred with this recommendation and took specific actions to rectify data system incompatibility issues. Partly in response to our recommendation, representatives from the Secretary of Defense's Lean Six Sigma office conducted reviews in 2009 to optimize theater logistics, including one of which focused on the processes for retrograding equipment from Iraq. Results from these studies contributed to the development of a new data system--the Theater Provided Equipment Planner. By conducting these studies and developing the new Theater Provided Planner data system, DOD has reduced its reliance on spreadsheets, eliminated data corruption errors, and has streamlined its processes for issuing disposition instructions for equipment retrograding from Iraq. This has put DOD in a better position to maintain visibility and accountability over equipment as it is retrograded.

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