Half of small arms given by US to Iraqis unaccounted for

The US government cannot account for more than half of all small arms given to Iraqis in the hope of bolstering their security forces, raising fears the weapons may have found their way to insurgent groups, according to a new congressional probe.

Half of small arms given by US to Iraqis unaccounted for
The disclosure, made in a report released by the 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, General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to report to Congress by mid-September on 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 United States has been a linchpin of this strategy.

But in its damning report, the investigative arm of the US Congress said at least 190,000 small arms given by the Pentagon to these forces since 2003 in the hope of boosting their combat readiness were nowhere to be found.

The United States has spent about 19.2 billion dollars since the beginning of the war to stand up Iraqi security forces that are supposed to gradually replace US troops in providing security for the country.

This total, according to the GAO, included at least 2.8 billion used to purchase and transport weapons and other military equipment necessary to improve the Iraqi arsenal.

Part of the money was used to purchase and distribute to Iraqis by September of 2005 about 185,000 Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles and 170,000 pistols.

But now, the Department of Defense "cannot fully account" for at least 190,000 of these weapons, or more than 50 percent of the total, the report said.

Also missing were 135,000 items of body armor out of a total of 215,000, 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 Defense Secretary Mark Kimmitt said in response that the Department of Defense was "reviewing policies and procedures to ensure US-funded equipment reaches the intended Iraqi security forces under the Iraq program."

But both the GAO 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 Center for Defense Information, a local think tank, pointed out that this indeed was likely to have been the case.

They noted in a recent study that black market sales of small arms have 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, likely 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 percent of all US troop casualties since the invasion were caused by small arms attacks.

The GAO findings come after the Pentagon requested, in the 2008 war-on-terror budget, an additional two billion dollars 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 in September.

Last Mod: 06 Ağustos 2007, 23:16
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