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Troop Rotation For Iraq At Halfway Mark
By Kent Harris
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 13, 2004

BAGHDAD The rotation of U.S. troops in and out of Iraq has reached the halfway mark.

"We're about at the 50 percent point," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for coalition operations, said Tuesday.

That rotation involving about 250,000 U.S. troops has generally gone smoothly, he said.

"I think it's a great credit not only to the logisticians who planned it, but the leaders who led it," Kimmitt said.

On a time line, the rotation is actually more than halfway completed, Kimmitt said. Some new troops started taking over their responsibilities as early as November. By May, all the troops serving in the first rotation should be out of the country, replaced by those who will serve another year or so in country.

Some of the outgoing units, including several based in Europe, saw their deployments extended by a few weeks when commanders saw the rotation needed a few adjustments. But Kimmitt said such moves should be over.

"I am not aware of any talk regarding [further] extensions at this point," he said.

He said the theater currently has more U.S. troops than it has seen since the reduction after President Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1, 2003. But as servicemembers continue to stream out of airports and into staging areas in Kuwait, the numbers in Iraq will steadily fall.

"Today, we're just about at the top of the peak," Kimmitt said.

Roughly three of the six division-sized elements have already changed hands, with new troops in the north, south-central and southern sectors.

Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who commands Task Force Olympia in the north of Iraq, said there are only a few small elements still swapping out in his sector.

He said Tuesday that the Army has been able to refine its techniques for showing new troops the ropes during operations in places such as Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"We've learned over time that this process works well," Ham said, referring to a method commonly called left-seat, right-seat in which troops entering the area sit next to experienced troops on patrol to get familiar with their new duties. "It gets better every time."

That said, Ham admitted that Iraq presents unique challenges during such a handover.

"While the process is the same, every individual situation is very different and we realize that."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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