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U.S. To Hand Over Iraq Bases, Equipment Worth Billions

First Posted: 09/26/11 08:11 AM ET Updated: 09/26/11 09:31 AM ET

Iraq Equipment
Cargo gets loaded in preparation for U.S. troops to leave their base in Northern Baghdad.

Various Department of Defense officials provided not entirely consistent data on exactly how much has been given away thus far in each category. But the man in charge, Maj. Gen. Thomas Richardson, the chief logistics officer in Iraq, told reporters last month that U.S. forces had given away equipment with a fair market value of $247 million between Sept. 1, 2010, and August of this year -- on top of items worth $157 million that had been transferred before the withdrawal officially started.

The lion's share of donated items falls into the category of excess, non-military property. Major Kimbia Rey, a spokesperson for the U.S. forces in Iraq, told The Huffington Post this week that more than 2.4 million such items have been transferred to the government of Iraq since last September.

Richardson explained that much of that category consists of what they call "FOB in a box." When the Iraqis take over a Forward Operating Base, he said, they also get the things that go with it, such as containerized housing units, water and fuel tanks, air conditioning units, generators, refrigerators, porta-johns, beds and mattresses, office equipment, fences, dining facilities and so on.

According to Lt. Col Melinda F. Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman, some 12,490 excess defense items worth $70.5 million have been turned over to the Iraqis, with 7,000 more, worth about $40 million, to go. That category includes such things as older versions of weapons, vehicles, and body armor.

Finally, U.S. forces have also given the Iraqis 1,251 non-excess military items worth $47.7 million, Morgan said. That category includes such items as up-armored Humvees and 50-caliber machine guns, Richardson said.

All of the dollar figures are for what the military calls "fair market value"; the purchase price of those items could, of course, have been much higher.

And Morgan noted that the "heaviest volume of future property transfers" is expected to occur between September and December of this year, although the "quantity and value" of what is still to come has not yet been determined.

Indeed, a Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this month raised concerns that military officials will suddenly find a lot of equipment they didn't expect -- right at the last minute, just when everybody's leaving.

After one of the largest base transitions to date, the GAO reported, "officials said that they were surprised at the amount of unaccounted-for equipment that was left over at the end of the transition process." Senior military officials told the GAO they were particularly worried that unexpected or abandoned contractor equipment -- including expensive and much-in-demand materiel-handling equipment, like forklifts and pallet trucks -- would suddenly show up "likely at the last minute."

Some equipment has simply piled up in Iraq since combat operations began in 2003 and may not be properly logged, the GAO warned, pointing out, for example, that "units sometimes turn in such equipment without paperwork and have even removed identifying markings such as serial numbers to avoid retribution."

And while leaving the equipment in Iraq, especially if it's worn out or particularly bulky, is much cheaper and more expedient than shipping it home, there's no getting around the enormous expense of purchasing it in the first place -- and that some of it is precisely the kind of equipment that was in such desperately short supply when state National Guards tried to respond to domestic natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the Greensburg, Kansas, tornado in 2007.

Hurlburt's concern is not so much that the U.S. is giving away the bases and the equipment, but that all these things that so much money was spent on aren't necessarily going to do their new owners much good. "At least, you would like if we were leaving them there, they would be useful to Iraqis," she said.

And it's an awful lot of stuff. "I'm thinking about the size of what was wasted there, and thinking about how what we spent in Iraq was all borrowed," she said. "In a crazy way, what we left in Iraq was our good credit rating."

RELATED: HuffPost's Sept. 16 story, "Massive U.S. Embassy In Iraq Will Expand Further As Soldiers Leave."

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Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.

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