U.S. arms for Iraq missing, study says

Military didn't track vast arsenal sent to security forces

October 30, 2006|By New York Times News Service

The U.S. military has not properly tracked hundreds of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces and has failed to provide spare parts, maintenance personnel or even repair manuals for most of the weapons given to the Iraqis, a federal report released yesterday has concluded.

The report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, found discrepancies in U.S. military records on where thousands of 9 mm pistols and hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons might have ended up. The U.S. military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of the weapons that were provided to Iraqis, the inspector general found, making it impossible to track or identify any that might have fallen into the wrong hands.

Exactly where untracked weapons could end up was not examined in the report, although black-market arms dealers thrive on the streets of Baghdad and official Iraqi army and police uniforms can easily be purchased as well, presumably because government shipments are intercepted or otherwise corrupted.

Because the inspector general is charged only with looking at weaponry financed directly by the American taxpayer, the total number of lost weapons could end up being higher. The Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon inspector general are expected to take a broad look at weapons financed by all sources, including the Iraqi government.

The report was undertaken at the request of Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and who recently provided an assessment far darker than the Bush administration's on the situation in Iraq.

Warner, who warned that the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways," sent his request in May to the inspector general's office. He also asked the inspector general to examine whether Iraqi security forces are developing a logistics operation capable of sustaining the hundreds of thousands of troops and police officers the American military says it has trained.

The inspector general's office, led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., also a Republican, responded to Warner's query about the Iraqi army's logistical capabilities with another report released at the same time, concluding that Iraqi security forces still depend heavily on Americans for the operations that sustain a modern army: deliveries of food, fuel and ammunition, troop transport, health care and maintenance.

Bowen found that the American military was not able to say how many Iraqi logistics personnel it has trained -- in this case because, the military told the inspector general, a computer network crash erased records. These problems have occurred even though the United States has spent $133 million on the weapons program and $666 million on building up Iraqi logistics capabilities.

The report said that even though the United States plans to scale back its support for logistics and maintenance for Iraqi security forces in 2007, it was still unclear whether the Iraqi government had any intention of compensating by allocating sufficient money in its budget to the ministries of interior and defense.

Warner confirmed through his spokesman, John Ullyot, that he was reviewing the reports over the weekend before a scheduled meeting with Bowen tomorrow.

Warner "believes it is essential that Congress and the American people continue to be kept informed by the inspector general on the equipping and logistical capabilities of the Iraqi army and security forces, since these represent an important component of overall readiness," Ullyot said in a statement released yesterday.

Bowen said in an interview that he was particularly concerned that it was unclear whether the Iraqi government intended to allocate enough money to support the logistics and maintenance needed for the Iraqi security forces to operate effectively.

"There's a couple of red flags," Bowen said. "Most significantly, is the Iraqi Ministry of Interior properly preparing to take over the mission and sustain it?"

"We don't know because we don't have adequate visibility into their budgeting," he said, "and to a lesser extent, the same red flag is up for the Department of Defense."

In its assessment, the inspector general concluded that of the 505,093 individual weapons that have been given to the ministries of interior and defense over the past several years, serial numbers for only 12,128 were properly recorded. The weapons include rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, semiautomatic pistols and sniper rifles.

Of those weapons, 370,000 were purchased with taxpayer money under what is called the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, or IRRF, and therefore fell within the inspector general's mandate.

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