Posted to the web on: 07 August 2007
Iraqis ‘lose’ thousands of US weapons
WASHINGTON — The US administration cannot account for 190000 AK-47s and pistols given to Iraqis in the hope of bolstering their security forces, raising fear the weapons may have found their way to insurgent groups, according to a new congressional probe.
The disclosure, made in a report released by the US government accountability office, comes ahead of a crucial review of US military operations that may pave the way for a reassessment of the US role in the violence-ravaged country.
The top US military commander in the country, Gen David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to report to congress by mid-September on “benchmarks” for whether efforts to halt sectarian violence and return Iraq to viable self-governance were bearing fruit.
Creating efficient security forces capable of taking over counterinsurgency operation from the US has been a linchpin of this strategy. But in its damning report the investigative arm of the US congress said at least 190000 small arms given by the Pentagon to these forces since 2003 in the hope of boosting their combat readiness were missing.
The US has spent about $19,2bn since the beginning of the war to bolster Iraqi security forces that are supposed to gradually replace US troops in providing security for the country. This total, according to the accountability office, included at least $2,8bn used to purchase and transport weapons and other military equipment necessary to improve the Iraqi arsenal.
Part of the money was used to buy and distribute to Iraqis by September 2005 about 185000 Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles and 170000 pistols. But now, the US defence department “cannot fully account” for at least 190000 of these weapons, or more than half of the total, the report said.
Also missing were 135000 items of body armour out of a total of 215000, despite the fact that even some US soldiers lacked this life-saving equipment, particularly in the early stages of the war. Assessing the causes of the problem, congressional investigators cited the Pentagon’s inadequate accountability procedures and “the lack of a fully developed network to distribute the equipment”.
Deputy Assistant Defence Secretary Mark Kimmitt said in response that the defence department was “reviewing policies and procedures to ensure US-funded equipment reaches the intended Iraqi security forces under the Iraq programme”.
But both the accountability office and the Pentagon have sidestepped the larger question of what has happened to the unaccounted weapons — and whether some of them could have found their way into the hands of anti-American insurgents.
Meanwhile, Rhea Myerscough and Rachel Stohl, security analysts with the Centre for Defence Information, a local think-tank, said this probably was the case.
They said in a recent study that black market sales of small arms had increased in Iraq, most noticeably right before the 2005 elections.
“The US military has also noted that weapons originally supplied by the US and its allies to the Iraqi police have been showing up on the streets and on the black market, probably diverted by theft, loss, or by officers who kept their weapons after quitting the police force,” Myerscough and Stohl wrote. Their study said more than 20% of all US troop casualties since the invasion were caused by small arms attacks.
The accountability office findings come after the Pentagon requested, in the 2008 war-on-terrorism budget, an additional $2bn to purchase small arms and other equipment for Iraqi security forces. The request is likely to be considered after congress returns from its summer recess next month.
Meanwhile, the US and Iran held the first meeting yesterday of a new subcommittee set up to find ways for the two arch foes to co-operate in ending Iraq’s sectarian violence.
Establishing the security subcommittee has been the main achievement so far of the first direct contacts between the US and Iran, enemies which have had no diplomatic ties for almost 30 years but were driven to the negotiating table by the threat of all-out civil war in Iraq.
Washington accuses Tehran of fomenting unrest in Iraq, supporting militias and supplying weapons used to kill US troops.