By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007
The U.S. military's faulty war plans and insufficient troops in Iraq left thousands and possibly millions of tons of conventional munitions unsecured or in the hands of insurgent groups after the 2003 invasion -- allowing widespread looting of weapons and explosives used to make roadside bombs that cause the bulk of U.S. casualties, according to a government report released yesterday.
Some weapons sites remained vulnerable as recently as October 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office report, which said the unguarded sites "will likely continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region." For example, it said hundreds of tons of explosives at the Al Qa Qaa facility in Iraq that had been documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency were lost to theft and looting after April 9, 2003.
The powerful explosives missing from the Al Qa Qaa complex became a controversy on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, and the Pentagon said then that a U.S. Army demolition unit had destroyed up to 250 tons of explosives at the site.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that securing the unexploded munitions in Iraq is "a huge, huge problem." "The entire country was one big ammo dump," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "We're doing our best to try and find them but, given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks that the military is trying to carry out there, it's a huge task," he said. Gates has said that roadside bombs cause about 70 percent of U.S. troop casualties.
Gates also acknowledged that the war in Iraq would slow the ability of the U.S. military to fight another major conflict. "We would not be able to achieve our goals on the timelines that we've set for ourselves in terms of being successful in that other conflict," he said. "It would take a little longer and we would not be as precise. We would not have as many precision weapons," he added. "It would be more of a blunt-force effort."
The GAO report pointed to several critical assumptions underlying U.S. military war plans in 2003 that proved invalid -- including expectations that Iraqi resistance was unlikely and that the Iraqi army would capitulate and continue to provide security.
As a result, widespread looting of munitions took place, including at the majority of Iraqi Republican Guard garrisons as well as 401 other sites, according to the GAO.
Pentagon programs have secured or disposed of more than 417,000 tons of munitions, the report said. But it said an unknown quantity -- ranging from thousands to millions of tons of conventional munitions -- remain unaccounted for.