Another embarrassing revelation: U.S. lost track of Iraqi weapons

The Pentagon lost track of  “about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005“, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded.

On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent U.S. government agency that is essentially the watchdog and investigative arm for the U.S. Congress, released a report that accused the Pentagon of losing track of “about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005“.

The report is particularly embarrassing for the Pentagon, firstly, because the numbers of the missing weapons are shocking — the highest previous estimate of unaccounted-for weapons was 14,000 in a report issued last year by the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction — and, secondly, because the U.S. plans to train and equip Iraqi forces have been so central to its strategy in the war-torn country, according to an editorial on the BBC.

The GAO says it can only account for less than half of about 185,000 assault rifles and 170,000 pistols that the Pentagon says it distributed to Iraqi security forces from 2004 through early this year; there is a discrepancy of 110,000 in the case of AK-47s, and 80,000 pistols. The gaps in the figures for body armour and helmets are even bigger – only 80,000 out of a total of 215,000 sets of body armour accounted for, and only 25,000 out of 140,000 helmets.

The GAO says it doesn’t know what has happened to the weapons, only that there are gaping holes in the records.
Moreover, the report states that the U.S. has spent $19.2 billion trying to develop Iraqi security forces since 2003, including at least $2.8 billion to buy and deliver equipment. But the GAO said weapons distribution was haphazard and failed to follow established procedures, particularly from 2004 to 2005, when security training was led by Gen. David H. Petraeus, who now commands all U.S. ocupation forces in Iraq.

The Pentagon, which has asked for another $2bn for new equipment for Iraqi forces, says it accepts key recommendations in the GAO report on improving records, and that steps have been taken. But the report says that, as of last month, the Pentagon had not specified what the accounting procedures were.

Although controls have been tightened since 2005, the inability of the United States to track weapons with tools such as serial numbers makes it nearly impossible for the U.S. military to know whether it is battling fighter equipped by American taxpayers, according to an article on the Washington Post.

“They (U.S. military officials) really have no idea where they are,” says Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information who has studied small-arms trade and received Pentagon briefings on the issue. “It likely means that the United States is unintentionally providing weapons to bad actors.”

Although the GAO focused on Pentagon failures regarding weapons distribution to the Iraqis, it raises concerns that the missing weapons have found their way into the hands of fighters. According to The Washington Post, one top Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably were being used against U.S. occupation forces. He cited the Iraqi brigade created at Fallujah that quickly dissolved in September 2004 and turned its weapons against the Americans.

The report also raises serious questions about the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, especially the police, as the Pentagon is under intense pressure to achieve results in its efforts to train and equip Iraqi forces. In less than a month, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, will release their assessment of how Bush’s “surge” strategy is working. The findings of this report are crucial; they could fuel more criticism or draw more support for the latest U.S. strategy in Iraq. Gen Petraeus wouldn’t be immune to criticism, as he was in change in Iraq for much of the time covered by the GAO investigation – and this alone could damage his reputation.

Given the importance of training and equipping Iraqi forces to the success of any American strategy, the GAO findings suggest that the U.S. didn’t only lose track of weapons, but also lost track of Iraq itself.

Source: alJazeera Magazine

Posted in Defense, Iraq War, Military, Paramilitary, Politics, Reports/Studies/Books, United States, War, War on Terror, Weaponry

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