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Fact-Checking Clinton, Obama

From NBC's Courtney Kube at the Pentagon
(Editor's note: We will be frequently asking various experts from NBC News to help us with policy reality checks, particularly on the issues of the military. Here's some fact-checking from last night from Courtney Kube at the Pentagon).

Sen. Barack Obama said that he wants to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and have all combat troops out by March 31st.  Current U.S. military planners estimate that it will take a minimum of 9 months to withdraw all 157,000 troops from Iraq - and that would be under "permissive conditions" (not in the middle of combat operations), which is NOT the situation there now.  To turn over bases, ship out all U.S. military equipment, and draw down forces (in other words, to clean up the country before they leave it) would take about 2 years -- again, that would be under permissive conditions.  
Unfortunately for Obama, March 31st is just over 8 months from now, so even if the draw down began today, all the troops would not be home by then ... and considering the U.S. still does not have permission to move troops out through either Jordan or Turkey, nine months may even be too optimistic for right now.

As for Sen. Hillary Clinton's call for bringing home a brigade or more a month, it is realistic to move one brigade per month out of Iraq -- and that could go to 2 per month if the conditions are right (i.e. limited violence against our troops) and once the major bases and outposts are cleaned out, and the equipment is shipped, they could move out faster.  The other major factor is whether the U.S. gets permission from Turkey and from Jordan to move troops out through their countries ... which would be politically difficult for both governments.
There are 20 combat brigades in Iraq right now.
On another topic, Clinton was wrong to say that the Pentagon is not planning for the withdrawal.  They plan for EVERYTHING.  If they had to get out today, they would have a plan ready to use right now.  And it would probably have some weird name like "Operation Eagle Flies."

(Look for more military reality checks from Courtney Kube as the campaign gets going.)