BAGHDAD -- Even as the U.S. military scrambles to support a troop surge in Afghanistan, it is donating passenger vehicles, generators and other equipment worth tens of millions of dollars to the Iraqi government.
Under new authority granted by the Pentagon, U.S. commanders in Iraq may now donate to the Iraqis up to $30 million worth of equipment from each facility they leave, up from the $2 million cap established when the guidelines were first set in 2005. The new cap applies at scores of posts that the U.S. military is expected to leave in coming months as it scales back its presence from about 280 facilities to six large bases and a few small ones by the end of next summer.
Some of the items that commanders may now leave behind, including passenger vehicles and generators, are among what commanders in Afghanistan need most urgently, according to Pentagon memos.
Officials involved say the approach has triggered arguments in the Pentagon over whether the effort to leave Iraqis adequately equipped is hurting the buildup in Afghanistan. Officials in the U.S. Central Command, which oversees both wars, have balked at some proposed handovers, and previously rejected an approach that would have granted base commanders even greater leeway.
U.S. commanders in Iraq say they have been judicious in assessing what equipment to earmark for donation. Alan F. Estevez, a deputy undersecretary of defense, wrote in an e-mail that "an important and vital goal is to leave behind fully functioning bases to the Government of Iraq to enable Iraq's civil capacities."
But a U.S. military official critical of the process said the new regulations allow too much latitude to commanders, provide little oversight and fail to account for the urgent need of American forces in Afghanistan, which need the same kinds of items that the troops in Iraq are leaving behind
"How can a generator or an SUV or a relocatable building be excess if you are buying the very same thing and sending it to Afghanistan?" said the official, who is involved in the process and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"In Iraq, people drive around in new Yukons, Suburbans, Envoys and new pickups," the official said. "In Kandahar, you find troops from the same U.S. Army driving around in broken-down, 15-year-old, right-hand-drive clunkers with bald tires."
Some U.S. military officials worry that much of the equipment left behind could be looted.
A U.S. officer whose unit turned over a Joint Security Station in Baghdad to the Iraqi army this summer said Iraqi soldiers looted the facility within hours of their official departure.
"When we returned to the outpost the next morning, most of the beds had already been taken, wood walls and framing had been pulled and several air-conditioning units had been removed from the walls, leaving gaping holes," said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event reflects negatively on the Iraqis.
Weeks later, the Caterpillar generator the Americans left behind was barely working, the officer said.
Brig. Gen. Bayer said he was not aware of looting at facilities turned over to the Iraqis.
"Once it's transferred," he said, "it's the government of Iraq's responsibility."
- Anything that is not bolted to the ground will be stolen.
- A good number of things that actually are bolted to the ground might still get stolen anyway.