BAGHDAD — The agency responsible for protecting U.S. diplomats around the world is still not ready to assume all of its new security responsibilities in Iraq, according to a new government report.
With most of the U.S. military preparing to pull out of Iraq by December, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is set to assume security responsibilities for roughly 17,000 U.S. diplomats and contractors working at 15 different sites across Iraq.
But the bureau “acknowledged it is not designed to assume the military’s mission in Iraq and will have to rely on its own resources and the assistance of the host country to protect the U.S. mission in the absence of the funding, personnel, equipment, and protection formerly provided by the U.S. military,” according to a Government Accountability Office report set for release Wednesday at a Senate hearing.
“With clear deadlines in place for the U.S. military departure from Iraq, delays in finalizing [the State Department’s] operations in Iraq could affect” the bureau’s ability to develop additional training courses for personnel deploying to the country, the report said.
Among other tasks, DS will be responsible for “downed aircraft recovery, explosives ordnance disposal, route clearance, and rocket and mortar countermeasures,” all of which it “has had little or no experience in providing,” according to GAO.
The bureau is spending roughly $1.7 billion on security operations in Iraq this year, according to the Senate subcommittee on oversight of government management, whose chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), requested the report.
“As we deploy more civilian federal employees to support democratic reform and self-governance in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other high-threat areas, it is critical that Diplomatic Security have the training, resources, and support needed to protect them,” Akaka said in a statement.
The GAO study echoes conclusions previously published in reports by the State Department’s inspector general, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Commission on Wartime Contracting — all of which warned that Diplomatic Security is underfunded and unprepared for new, complex security operations in Iraq.
Bureau officials quoted by GAO said they are seeking feedback from embassy personnel, updating training programs and working with the military and other agencies as part of ongoing transition work in Iraq. The bureau is also training new security protective specialists who will be assigned by the Baghdad Embassy, and administering new high-threat courses to other personnel, the report said.
The study also focused on long-standing concerns with the bureau’s training programs and its oversight of contract personnel, which make up 90 percent of the bureau’s workforce. (In Baghdad, security firm Triple Canopy provides most of the security at the U.S. Embassy and Green Zone.)
The bureau’s training courses are held at 16 separate leased, rented or borrowed facilities, many of which are too small or in need of repair, the report said. And in addition to its new responsibilities in Iraq, the bureau is also providing new high-threat training to State Department personnel and other law enforcement officials, but still “does not have an action plan and time frames to manage” the new programs, the report said.
In written testimony set for delivery Wednesday, Eric J. Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said, “The Bureau needs significant resources to meet the requirements of securing our diplomatic facilities in the extremely high-threat environments of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, and Mexico, as well as other dangerous locations worldwide,” Boswell said.
Susan R. Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, is set to tell senators that her group has “serious questions about the current Iraq transition plan.”
Johnson said her group hopes to learn more about how the State Department plans to effectively operate without the support of the U.S. military and whether diplomats in Iraq will have “the financial commitment from Congress, a degree of U.S. military support, and the backing of the Iraqi government.”