Thursday, February 26, 2009

US military weaning Iraq's army from support

TAJI, Iraq (AP) - There was the time the Iraqis spent millions of dollars on ammunition from Romania, only to discover that it was defective or didn't fit their U.S.- or Russian-made weapons. Or when the Iraqis bought portable kitchens which didn't work in the field.

The U.S. military has put in countless hours training Iraqi security forces in battlefield and police tactics.

But the Obama administration's apparent plans to withdraw combat troops by August 2010 - and the remaining servicemen by the end of the following year - has some commanders concerned about something else: Iraq's ability to equip and maintain its own forces.

"They are at the basic level. They can feed themselves. They can fuel themselves. They can arm themselves," said Australian Brig. Gen. David McGahey, who heads the U.S.-led task force aimed at helping the Iraqi armed forces fend for themselves after the eventual pull out.

But "giant gaps" remain in the Iraqi supply system, particularly a shortage of mechanics for vehicle maintenance and repairs, that may take "years and years" to close, he added.

Other challenges, commanders say, is a lack of modern technology to track parts and services. Iraq uses an antiquated paperwork system.

Under the plan President Barack Obama is expected to announce as early as this week, 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops - out of an estimated 142,000 currently in Iraq - would remain in the country beyond August 2010 to advise, train and help outfit the Iraqi armed forces.

The complete withdrawal of American forces will apparently take place by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

The Iraqis had long depended on American logistics and supplies as their main lifeline in the fight against militants and their own struggles to rebuild.

Since late last year, however, the U.S. has stopped fueling and feeding the Iraqis.

"We are not giving them parts. We are not giving them fuel. We are not fixing it for them," said Army Col. Ed Dorman, who works on logistics and supply for Multi-National Corps Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, has given his commanders an April deadline to make sure Iraq's ability to supply its basic needs - fuel, weapons and maintenance - does not impede its ability to roll out on a mission.

To date, there have been no reports that the Iraqi military has been unable to respond to a mission since they began taking care of their basic needs, according to Dorman.

"You may have heard some people say Iraqi logistics is broken. I don't think that's accurate," said Army Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, the deputy commanding general at Multi-National Security Transition Command.

"It remains under construction."

Salazar said the real challenge for the Iraqi military will be to grow its logistics capabilities along with expansion of its 620,000-member military and police forces.

"From a logistics standpoint, we know there is an awful lot of work to be done," he added.

American officials point to some successes: 500 Iraqis working to refurbishment and retrofit former U.S. Humvees at a supply depot in Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad. U.S. contractors are on hand in an advisory role.

"That program tells me it can be done if we get the right supervisor, the right tradesmen," McGahey said.

The Iraqi government has purchased nearly $5 billion in military items from the U.S. since 2006. It also has inquired about another $3.8 billion in military-grade purchases.

But there are glaring shortfalls: purchases of useless equipment - such as the field kitchens and the Romanian ammo - as well as reports of internal corruption.

The costly miscues are blamed on "catalog shopping," buying without examining products or purchasing items without manuals or service contracts, said a U.S. military official familiar with Iraq's logistics practices. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The more nagging problem, though, appears to be missing money.

The Iraqi army pays its brigade commanders a weekly cash stipend to feed troops. The U.S. military has praised the program for putting money back into Iraqi communities.

But reports have surfaced of some commanders putting dozens of soldiers on leave every week to pocket unspent money.

"They get the same amount of money if they have 25 people there or 50 people there," said the military official.

The Iraqi logistics distribution network is still largely centralized, based on a British colonial system used under Saddam Hussein. By contrast, the U.S. military allows units to order through a regionalized system rather than from one central source.

McGahey said the Americans are not trying to reinvent the Iraqi supply chain.

"There is no silver bullet. What we need to do is understand the way they do it and improve the system by cutting out the inefficiencies and cutting out the corruption," McGahey said.

"Will it evolve like the U.S. system, the Australian system? No. It'll evolve like the Iraqi system."


At some point they have to step up and do their own thing. In this I agree with President Obama, Iraqis need to take ownership of their own problems.


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