Military official: "They don't want these soldiers sitting around. They want them home."
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is on schedule, a military official says
More than 5,800 armored vehicles are expected to pass through Camp Virginia, an officer says
The U.S. military is ordering that soldiers crossing from Iraq into Kuwait be returned home at a faster rate, a move that comes as commanders work to break up a bottleneck of troops who have been pouring across the border ahead of a year-end deadline to withdraw, CNN has learned.
“The order is to have these soldiers off the ground in Kuwait as soon as possible,” a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN. The official, based in Kuwait, was not authorized to speak to the media.
“They don’t want these soldiers sitting around here. They want them home.”
The official did not immediately know whether the military was moving up or adding flights for troops from Kuwait.
The order follows President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that he would pull virtually all troops from Iraq by year’s end, meeting the terms of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that set a December 31, 2011, withdrawal deadline.
The president’s announcement followed news that negotiations to extend the deadline broke down after Iraq’s top political leaders refused to grant U.S. troops legal immunity, opening up the prospect of soldiers being tried in Iraqi courts and being subjected to Iraqi punishment.
Of the approximate 11,000 troops in Iraq, down from the 50,000 three months earlier, only about 150 will remain after the deadline to assist in arms sales, a U.S. official previously told CNN.
The road home for most troops will require them to cross from Iraq, either by convoy or airplane, into Kuwait. There, they will turn in equipment before starting the journey back to the United States.
The move to rotate soldiers more quickly out of Kuwait also is aimed at placating the oil kingdom. Kuwait has long been concerned that the U.S. military not increase its footprint in the country.
Since mid-October, troops have been rolling almost every day into Camp Virginia, a short distance from the very border crossing used in the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
About 1,200 troops are permanently based at Camp Virginia. The population has swelled, at times, to more than four or five times that number.
To accommodate the influx, the dining facilities extended hours of operation, expanded retail hours, opened a second PX, and increased the number of cleaning crews.
“We increased the space available for housing troops, as well as doubled our space for units to perform the administrative work they need to do to redeploy,” said Lt. Col. Brian Bobo, commander of the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota-based National Guard unit deployed to Camp Virginia.
“We also increased showers and latrines to make sure we had enough.”
In Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman says every step in the withdrawal is a “deliberate operation in which we collect intelligence, coordinate with the Iraqi Security Forces, clear routes and ensure that every convoy has ground security and air cover.”
“We take that approach because force protection is inherent in every one of our operations, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect our troops,” Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the senior military spokesman for United States Forces-Iraq, told CNN.
Buchanan said the U.S. withdrawal is on track, with all troops out of Iraq by year’s end.
While Buchanan did not address whether troops were being sent home at a faster rate, he said that the U.S. military in Iraq was working with counterparts in Kuwait to streamline the effort to move troops across the border.
“As a result, we’re able to get them on a plane headed home quicker than before,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is moving tens of thousands of pieces of equipment, including armored vehicles and equipment to counter improvised explosives, across the border from Iraq to Kuwait.
More than 5,800 armored vehicles are expected to pass through Camp Virginia by year’s end, though it will take months more before the equipment is either shipped back to the U.S. or Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Ronald O’Bryant, a liaison officer with the team overseeing the receipt and shipment of equipment at Camp Virginia.
CNN’s Charley Keyes contributed to this report.