BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, good morning, and thank you for joining us on Good Friday.

General Webster, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. I take it you can hear us okay'

GEN. WEBSTER: Can hear you very -- very good. Thanks, Bryan.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

This is Lieutenant General William Webster, who is the commander of Third Army in Kuwait. And Third Army has more than 50,000 military and civilians operating in 13 countries. General Webster's area of responsibility is an area of more than 4.5 million square miles, or about 1-1/2 times the size of the continent of the United States -- so a big job.

He took command in May of last year, and right now is sustaining our two current combat operations, supporting both the responsible drawdown in Iraq as well as the buildup in Afghanistan and the reset of the Army.

So General Webster, thank you again for taking the time. And I understand you're going to give us a bit of an overview before you take some questions, so let me turn it right over to you.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, thanks very much. This is my second tour of duty in Third Army. I was a deputy commander for General McKiernan back in '02 and '03 when we initially attacked into Iraq. And I commanded the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad with Multinational Division-Baghdad in '05 to '06. And as you stated, I took command last May. And it's the first one of these I've been able to conduct since taking command.

I thought I would tell you, first of all, that our three main missions are, first of all, sustaining those two current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq. That includes the responsible drawdown from Iraq as well as the buildup of forces in Afghanistan.

The second main mission that we have is to be prepared to go to any of the other countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan if something should go wrong and we should have to conduct other operations, perhaps a natural disaster all the way up to combat operations.

And then the third main mission we have is building the partners' capacity in the region here in CENTCOM as we attempt to make them stronger and build our allies in the region.

I've passed out, I think, our -- my opening statement, and so if you'd like, I can just go to questions, or I can talk to you some more about what we're doing.

MR. WHITMAN: It looks like they'd like to get right into questions, General. So we'll do that. Anne (sp).

Q General, I'm wondering if you could clarify for us whether or not this is the largest movement of equipment and troops since World War II or if it's comparable in any way to the Gulf war; and also if you can give us a breakdown of the number of pieces of equipment that you're moving versus how many -- how much of this will stay behind in Iraq.

GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. This is the largest operation that we've been able to determine since the buildup for World War II. When we started this operation, we had about 2.8 million items of equipment in Iraq, along with about 88,000 containers containing some of that equipment, and some of them being used for other purposes, as well as about 41,000 pieces of rolling stock that had to be moved out, rolling stock meaning tracks and wheeled vehicles as well as trailers.

And so we're about 35 percent through with that now.

We began, actually last June, moving equipment out of Iraq, and we're sorting it out here in Kuwait. Some of it goes into Afghanistan; some of it goes back to the Army to be reset back in the depots and then returned to our soldiers who are training back in CONUS.

Q And sir, could you say how many pieces, then, are being left behind in Iraq and will not go on to Afghanistan' Are -- is any equipment being left behind for the Iraqi security forces'

GEN. WEBSTER: Yeah, there are a number of programs run by Department of Defense and State Department, driven by what General Odierno has requested. And the total number of items is -- I don't have that number with me, but we haven't finished with some of those foreign military sales programs. So I don't know what that total will be.

We did take a list from General Odierno last year that -- where the Iraqis had requested equipment, and we had -- we have conducted a number of boards that look at all of that equipment, determine what the costs and benefits are, and make recommendations back to the department so that the Department of the Army can decide what equipment to leave behind.

MR. WHITMAN: Dan, go ahead.

Q Dan De Luce, AFP. Could you tell us how the -- how it's going with the northern route, how -- this deployment into Afghanistan, as opposed to the route you were using through Pakistan' And what rate is that -- what pace is that being used at'

GEN. WEBSTER: Okay, thanks. I -- the northern distribution network, as we call it, consists of five different routes that USTRANSCOM has set up for us that involve both the continent of Europe as well as the continent of Asia, to bring equipment in from outside as redundant means beyond the capabilities we have in Pakistan.

The longest of those is about 5,000 miles long.

And the good news is that because of the great teamwork by our partners there, that we're now able to move about 50 percent of the supplies in -- that we need in Afghanistan are being moved over those five routes along the northern distribution network. That compares to the two routes that come up from the coast of Pakistan into Afghanistan, and those are -- one of them is about 600 miles long and one of them is about 1,200 miles long, from the coast.

I was in Afghanistan just last week to check on our troops and to see firsthand how that movement of equipment is going. Went on a patrol with some of the troops who were -- who were securing one of those routes up to the gate -- the Chaman gate that comes through Pakistan. And things seemed to be moving extraordinarily well. So that -- those northern routes have given us a great deal of relief and additional capacity if any of the routes are blocked by weather or enemy action.

MR. WHITMAN: Mike.

Q Sir, Mike Emanuel from Fox News. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the analysis that goes into looking at, for example, a Humvee, to say, you know, this is still good quality, this should go on to Afghanistan, or this is battle-worn and maybe should be left behind in Iraq, or, you know, whether it should be used for scrap -- just to get a sense for the viewers and readers at home, in terms of the careful analysis that goes into this.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, thanks for that question.

We have a large team of experts from Army Materiel Command and the Defense Logistics Agency that looks at all of this equipment in Iraq, where it currently sits.

And if the equipment is not fully mission-capable or it's got -- it doesn't have enough life left in it based on a set of detailed manuals that our teams use, and it's Army standards that we're talking about, they'll pass that equipment back to us on trucks.

We'll haul that equipment back here to Kuwait, where our Kuwaiti partners are allowing us to conduct a very large maintenance operation. We refurbish that equipment here and set it up for issue again.

And some of that equipment is going back up into Iraq. And some of it goes back to the United States for reissue to our troops there. And if it's in bad enough shape, or we lack the capacity for some of the tougher rebuild actions, then we'll send it back to the depots in the states for issue from those depots.

We do -- in addition, we do a cost benefit analysis of all of these items of equipment, as well as the transportation coming out of Iraq. And that way, we can make better-informed decisions about the costs.

Sometimes the operational costs or the operational benefits would cause us to make a decision that might not look monetarily beneficial. But it might -- it's all done for the right reasons.

And we set up a number of boards that have our -- my own maintenance and supply experts look at it in the end. So it's a big decision-making process that goes really from end to end.

Q Great benefit to the taxpayer of what you're doing; as opposed to buying all brand-new equipment, that you're able to refurbish and really do some sprucing up to keep equipment in the fight.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, that's absolutely right. The equipment we've got, as you know, has been ridden hard. I mean, some of it -- when I was in Baghdad in '05, I put about 20,000 miles on my own humvee, and that's significantly greater than what was planned for the life of the vehicle. But when the equipment needs to be refurbished, we'll pull it back down here. As innovations come forward from the states with engineering improvements on armor and protection for our soldiers, we also do that work here and send it back up to them.

We have a big process of taking accountability for all the equipment that comes out of Iraq, whether it's a piece of rolling stock like a humvee or whether it's some nonstandard item that we've issued, like a hand-held mobile radio. And we look at that, clean it up. We've got a team of experts here from across the Department of Defense who help us bring -- bring it to accountability and put it back into the system so that other units can use it or so it could be sold, if that decision's made, to other countries.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go a little bit further back -- (off mike.)

Q Mike Evans from the London Times, General. Can you tell me what's the total cost of this mammoth operation which you're engaged in' Do you have an operational code name for it'

And can I ask -- there are some pieces of equipped, presumably, like helicopters, which can't just transfer from Iraq directly to Afghanistan and need different rotor blades or whatever. How much of that is involved in your program'

GEN. WEBSTER: Bryan, I'm sorry, I couldn't understand those two or three questions. Can you help me out'

MR. WHITMAN: Let me see if I can paraphrase and get it right. The first aspect was the cost, if you could put a cost figure to the operations of retrograde and transfer of equipment in the theater, as well as if this has a particular operational name to what you're doing; and then to some of the aspects of what might have to -- things that you might have to do to make equipment ready for going from one theater to another -- the example was a helicopter that might need different rotor blades if it goes from Iraq over to Afghanistan.

GEN. WEBSTER: Okay, good. In terms of -- in terms of cost, we're bringing down the costs in Iraq by going through those cost- benefit analyses and trying to find the redundancies and eliminate those wherever it makes sense.

The overall cost of operations in theater is well above my pay grade, but I can tell you that we've saved about $3.8 billion -- billion -- last year by finding those redundancies and efficiencies in our processes and either cost avoidance or cost savings. And we were able to apply that 3.8 billion (dollars) towards last year's buildup in Afghanistan. As you may recall, about 20,000 troops were added last year, and we were able to apply those monies over to Afghanistan to help defray those costs.

In terms of a name, we've been planning this operation to drawdown in Iraq for a long time. And we've rehearsed it several times, and all through that period, it's -- we've called it responsible drawdown.

GEN. WEBSTER: Bryan, I'm sorry, I couldn't understand those two or three questions. Can you help me out'

MR. WHITMAN: Let me see if I can paraphrase and get it right. The first aspect was the cost, if you could put a cost figure to the operations of retrograde and transfer of equipment in the theater, as well as if this has a particular operational name to what you're doing; and then to some of the aspects of what might have to -- things that you might have to do to make equipment ready for going from one theater to another -- the example was a helicopter that might need different rotor blades if it goes from Iraq over to Afghanistan.

GEN. WEBSTER: Okay, good. In terms of -- in terms of cost, we're bringing down the costs in Iraq by going through those cost- benefit analyses and trying to find the redundancies and eliminate those wherever it makes sense.

The overall cost of operations in theater is well above my pay grade, but I can tell you that we've saved about $3.8 billion -- billion -- last year by finding those redundancies and efficiencies in our processes and either cost avoidance or cost savings. And we were able to apply that 3.8 billion (dollars) towards last year's buildup in Afghanistan. As you may recall, about 20,000 troops were added last year, and we were able to apply those monies over to Afghanistan to help defray those costs.

In terms of a name, we've been planning this operation to drawdown in Iraq for a long time. And we've rehearsed it several times, and all through that period, it's -- we've called it responsible drawdown. But, this fall as we started to also buildup in Afghanistan. Because of the PresidentAca,!a,,cs decision to do so, it became obvious to us, that is, that the sum total of what we were doing that is continuing to fight in Iraq; at the same time we were shifting the main effort to Afghanistan and conducting combat operations there at the same time; that the scope of our operation was larger than even the turn that Patton made in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. Where he turned our own Third Army on its heels 90 degrees and attacked into the flank of the Germans.

So, when we looked at that operation historically and the size of it, we realized we were many times greater than that and over a much longer duration. But, the code word that he used to turn the Third Army was nickel. He simply picked up the phone and said Aca,!A"nickel.Aca,!A? So we have nicknamed this operation that we are doing, nickel II. And thatAca,!a,,cs a combination of drawing down in Iraq and building up in Afghanistan. And the last question, IAca,!a,,cm not sure I recall that.

MR. WHITMAN: The last question pertained to how you might modify equipment thatAca,!a,,cs going from Iraq to Afghanistan such as, if a helicopter that needs to be equipped with different rotor blades, the process for which youAca,!a,,cre going through that.

GEN. WEBSTER: Sure. You know the enemy has evolved over time. The enemyAca,!a,,cs we fought in Iraq changed sometimes from neighborhood to neighborhood and their tactics and techniques would change and sometimes come full circle back to the original way they were doing things.

We see the same in Afghanistan. And we're checking the situation daily to look at the enemy's operations and how the terrain and the weather and the environmental conditions, as well as the enemy's actions, are affecting our soldiers in Afghanistan, and we're trying to anticipate that and pass back the necessary changes to our Army so that they can improve our equipment.

One good example is, when we first started sending MRAPs into Afghanistan -- and some of you may know there are probably over 30 different variants of the MRAP, but when we first started sending MRAPs over there, our largest ones, which were most effective in Iraq, because of the way the enemy was attacking, were very cumbersome on the rough terrain and terrible roads in Afghanistan. They were too top-heavy and we were breaking axles. So we looked for an alternative.

And as you recall from this year, the M-ATV, the MRAP mine-protected vehicle, is lighter weight, it's more agile, it's got independent suspension, and it's got a number of improvements from the standard MRAP that we were using. And we're now flying those in at a rate of about 400 a month, and we plan to move that up to about a thousand a month to get them into Afghanistan over the next couple of months so we can swap out with up-armored humvees and some of the larger MRAPs that General McChrystal is currently using. So that's an example of how we've changed and evolved and modified equipment to send it over.

The equipment that we get in here frequently will have upgrades in the armor that we add on to it. For instance, today's up-armored humvee is on version seven of its armor kits that we add on to it to the outside.

And that helps protect the soldiers inside from the kinds of strikes they're taking.

So, some of the equipment we'll get out of Iraq is not -- does not have the latest armor on it. We may have to change engines, suspensions, transmissions as well as adding on the latest armor, before we push it forward. But we're trying to get it to our troops in the best condition possible, before they realize they need it. That's our goal.

MR. WHITMAN: I think I promised you the next one, Jeff.

Q Okay, thank you.

Hey, General, this is Jeff with Stars and Stripes. I'm glad that relations between Third Army and Stripes have improved since General Patton.

In July, Russia agreed to allow the U.S. to transport troops and lethal supplies to Afghanistan via air. The first flight was in October. Do you know how many flights there have been since then'

GEN. WEBSTER: I don't have the number. I can get it for you, Jeff. We'll pass that back to you when we get off of this conference here. But our friends and partners are allowing us to move a lot of equipment through and over their countries. And that's been a big help.

You know, we move in -- most of our soldiers who are going into Afghanistan fly through Manas, Kyrgyzstan. I was just there last week trying to ensure that we could improve the processes there, maintaining accountability for our troops, but most importantly to push as many of those troops, as quickly as we could, to General McChrystal, so that he's got the maximum boots-on-the-ground time or BOG time with all of the troops there.

So yeah, that -- I'll give you the number. But our friends and allies in the region are helping us out a great deal.

MR. WHITMAN: Mike.

Q General, Mike Mount with CNN. You had mentioned MRAPs earlier, specifically the older ones. What are you doing with the -- with the older ones now if they aren't going to Afghanistan' Or maybe some of them still are. But what is the after-market value of those -- of those MRAPs if they're not that useful in Afghanistan'

GEN. WEBSTER: Yeah, thanks. I don't have a number on the after- market value. I guess we could -- I'm joking here, but I guess we could throw a couple of them on eBay and see what the market will bear.

But what we're doing with those is, we're adding improvements to them in terms of suspension and armor, if we can, and we're sending them back to the States.

When we say that we've got 30 different variants of the MRAP or more, really there are five basic MRAPs, and there are modifications to those. So it's kind of like having -- well, it actually is -- five different truck makers putting these out, such as Oshkosh. And then there -- as soldiers make recommendations and the missions change, they've added and changed the troop-hauling capacity of those and so that gives us our 30-odd variants. And some of them have earlier levels of armor, and while we don't need that and while we don't want to push lighter armor into Afghanistan, then that truck will be very good for sending back to CONUS and putting in the hands of the soldiers who are training to deploy.

So we've got a good mix of repairing those and sending them back if the armor or some other part of the equipment is not required in Afghanistan. And we're beginning to start talking about providing some additional MRAPs to our NATO allies in theater.

So we're not sure how that's going to shake out yet. We're holding some of those after we repair them just to see which direction the secretary wants us to go.

MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.) Go ahead.

Q Hi, General, Justin Fishel from Fox News. I just wanted to follow up on a question that was asked earlier about the total cost. You said you know how much you're saving. That means you probably know how much you're spending. So I've seen a report that this whole effort would cost in the tens of billions. Is that accurate'

GEN. WEBSTER: Yeah, that's accurate. You know, the -- if I recall right -- and I'll double-check the numbers here and send them back to you -- but if I recall right, two or three years ago, at the height of the surge in Iraq, we were spending about $20 billion there through Third Army in terms of repairing and equipping and supplying our troops who were on the ground. And that came down last year to about 16 billion (dollars), and this year we think it will be down around 9 billion (dollars) in -- for total Army operations in Iraq. And so, some of that money will be pushed over to Afghanistan and in those savings. So I don't know if those figures help, but that's the ones I have close at hand.

Q That's very helpful. Thank you. And can you give us an example of anything that's simply not worth it to bring back or refurbish' Is there any -- is there a great amount of equipment that you're just going to leave just because it's not -- it doesn't make sense financially'

GEN. WEBSTER: Yeah, absolutely. A couple of examples come to mind. First of all, the old SUV. You know, there are a number of SUVs that we bought -- non-tactical vehicles, we called them -- that we've sent up there for operating on the FOBs or for carrying around some of -- some of the folks from other governmental agencies when we escort them in and around the Green Zone and other places.

And, you know, we might have paid $30,000 for those non-tactical vehicles -- a single one, when we bought it several years ago -- and it might only be worth a few thousand dollars now, $5(,000) to 8,000. And so you would say, well, we can use those back in the States; why don't we ship them back to the States or ship them to Afghanistan'

And then we look at the cost of doing business. First of all, taking it back to the States is a non-starter, because they don't meet standards -- EPA standards back in the States. And then the second point would be, it might cost as much as $10,000 to move an SUV, maybe even greater depending on the route we had to use to move an SUV into Afghanistan. So in some cases it's cheaper for us to turn that over to the government of Iraq through the right programs and let them keep it.

Another example might be the T-walls, you know, the ubiquitous Jersey barriers that we have of various heights in Iraq and Afghanistan now. You would think that, with thousands of pieces of T-wall that we had around Sadr City and the Green Zone and other places for a long time, that the right thing to do would be to truck those down here and ship them to Afghanistan. But those might cost somewhere around $800 to $5,000, depending on the size, apiece to pour initially, but it might cost 5,000 bucks to ship it, and that's one of the cost figures that we've looked at recently.

And so it doesn't make any sense.

It's cheaper, more beneficial to our government, to buy them in Afghanistan or adjacent countries. And that, of course, then contributes to businesses in Afghanistan. So that's the kind of process we go through for many of these items that we're pulling out.

MR. WHITMAN: Two more quick ones. We'll go to you and then to Joe, and then close it up. Okay'

Q Hi, General. It's Kirit Radia, with ABC News.

Could you give me a sense of the timeline and priorities of your operation; what you'd like to be bringing out first from Iraq; what the priorities are for bringing into Afghanistan; and if you have any sort of milestones or goals along that timeline that you could share with us' Thank you.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, each of the units that goes in there has a mission-essential equipment list that General McChrystal's staff has approved. We've helped them work up and define what that equipment list is. High on the list are always MRAPs, M-ATVs, radios, Blue Force Trackers, IED -- counter-IED equipment. All of that, we manage, and we have the priority to push in there as quickly as we can.

And when we get it in there, we've got units inside Afghanistan who mount all of that equipment in the configuration that the -- that the unit needs, so that when it's issued they can drive from the issue point right into the fight if they needed to.

Q In terms of a timeline for your operation, do you have any sense of how long this is all going to take to take that stuff out and in'

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, without saying too much in detail, you know, the President told us he wanted to move in there as quickly as possible. And initial estimates were that it was going to take as much as 18 months.

And through the efficiencies that we found and the hard work of the entire DOD team -- and our allies, too, with all these other networks -- we now will be able to move the 5,000-plus vehicles that are needed for the buildup by the end of the summer.

MR. WHITMAN: Joe, you have the last one, and then we're going to let the general get back to work.

Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I want to go back to your opening statement. You have talked about building partners' capacity. I don't know if you could talk a little bit more about this issue, give us more details, what kind of military-to-military engagement you're doing and what are those countries.

GEN. WEBSTER: Okay, Joe. Thanks.

You know, we have soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've got a command element in each place. We have a large headquarters here in Kuwait, which our Kuwaiti partners are letting us use and we have agreements on the use of this. And I also have headquarters back in Atlanta and Shaw Air Force Base.

But here in theater, on any given day we're working in eight to 10 countries. We have air defense troops. We're responsible for all of the Patriot units in theater. They conduct local engagements, teaching medical skills and combat operations with their partners in those countries, like UAE and Qatar and Bahrain and here in Kuwait.

But probably a better example is, just this week we had about a five-man detail that was up in one of the CASA countries, the Central and South Asian countries, probably not good to go into the details of which one, but in one of the CASA countries that was conducting a medical engagement.

And they were talking about natural disasters and how to respond to those, what planning efforts we went through in preparing for those. But they were also helping them maintain -- learn how to maintain their medical equipment: X-ray equipment, lab equipment, et cetera.

Just this week also here in Kuwait, we conducted a small engagement of about five of our troops, with some of the special troops in Kuwait, and conducted air assault training which was -- included some classroom work, some field work and then ultimately with a ride in helicopters at night, under blacked out conditions, to deliver troops on the ground at an objective area, in a raid, which they were able to accomplish in training and then come back out safely.

And we conduct an after-action review after those events. We're about to start -- the last example I'd give you is, we're about to start a big exercise in Saudi Arabia that will involve a couple of thousand of our soldiers, in an exercise called Earnest Leader that we conduct every year with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And that's going to involve a battalion task force and a number of our soldiers who are going to be exchanging ideas and training together, on how we would fight together if we had to here in theater.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, gentlemen, we have come to the end of our allocated time. And we want to thank you for this very informative session. But before I bring it to a close, let me just make sure that you don't have anything else that we've forgotten or any closing comments that you wanted to make.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, I'd like to say thanks to all of our partners and teammates who are helping us do this.

And I'd like to give them acknowledgment for the great work that they're doing, but also these great heroes we've got on the ground who are doing this hard work, driving the trucks, guarding equipment, delivering and repairing equipment. Major General Jim Rogers, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, commands the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, for instance. He's got 6,000 troops out there doing those types of things that I just mentioned, and he and his soldiers are making it happen every day. And that's the big difference for us.

Thank you very much for your time today.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, thank you for helping us understand the -- and appreciate the enormity of the challenge. And it reminds us of the old military adage that anybody can talk tactics, but professionals talk logistics. So thank you very much.

GEN. WEBSTER: Well, and just one more closing comment. I'll just remind you that I'm -- as some of you know, I'm an operator and not a logistician, but I've just been amazed at what these logisticians are doing. So thanks very much, Bryan.

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Page last updated Fri April 2nd, 2010 at 10:50