By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The United States has invested $19 billion to train and equip nearly 350,000 Iraqi soldiers and police since toppling Saddam Hussein, but the ability of those forces to provide security remains in doubt, according to the findings of a bipartisan congressional investigation to be released today.
As a result, President Bush's pledge to have U.S. troops "stand down" as Iraqi forces "stand up" remains unfulfilled. Instead, U.S. troop numbers and operations have escalated in recent months, and the overall level of violence has not decreased.
Despite the substantial number of Iraqi security forces and their increasing willingness to fight -- demonstrated by rising numbers of casualties -- their progress toward taking full responsibility for the nation's security remains mixed, according to a report on the investigation by the oversight panel of the House Armed Services Committee. U.S. commanders now predict that it will take years and tens of thousands more Iraqi soldiers and police to achieve that goal.
The Pentagon "cannot report in detail how many of the 346,500 Iraqi military and police personnel that the coalition trained are operational today," according to the 250-page report. Details of the document were provided to The Washington Post by congressional staff members.
"We have no idea what our $19 billion has gotten us," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, noting that the United States investment represents $55,000 per Iraqi recruit.
"The DOD can't tell us how well the Iraqis perform their missions or even plan them," he said in an interview. "The police are in particularly bad shape, although they are critical to counterinsurgency."
The lack of transparency is especially worrisome, the report said, because of the possibility that Iraqi forces trained and equipped by the United States have joined the insurgency or sectarian militias.
"This report details the complete lack of understanding of who we have trained and what happens to them after we train them," Meehan said. "Many of the forces we have trained are unaccounted for, and others are on the rolls but haven't been vetted," he said, adding that forces "could actually be fighting against us."
The subcommittee's report found "strong evidence" that some Iraqi forces trained by the U.S.-led military coalition are involved in sectarian violence and other illegal activities. In addition, the Pentagon "cannot account for whether coalition-issued weapons have been stolen or turned against U.S. forces," the report said.
The $19 billion in appropriations -- about $5 billion each fiscal year since 2004 -- has primarily gone toward recruiting, training and equipping Iraqi security forces but also includes funding for building training centers, managing logistics and creating an Iraqi leadership structure in the ministries of defense and the interior.
The report criticized as "premature and ill-advised" the U.S. decision to transfer responsibility for vetting the Iraqi police to the national government early this year, after only a year of focused effort in generating police forces, saying that police remain ineffective and their organization is "riddled with corruption and sectarian influence." Tens of thousands of police have been hired outside of the U.S.-led training program, it said.
Regarding the Iraqi army, the report found that the Pentagon lacks clear measures of the number of soldiers on the job and their ability to conduct operations, particularly away from their home bases.
The Iraqi ministries of defense and the interior are incapable of "accounting for, supporting, or fully controlling their forces in the field," or even executing their own budgets, the investigation found. In addition, the ministries lack critical intelligence and logistics systems that would help in planning independent operations.
U.S. military advisory teams placed with Iraqi security forces were formed on an ad hoc basis and were not fully qualified for their mission in 2004 and 2005, it found. U.S. military police units were not deployed to advise the Iraqi police until 2005, and they did not begin to receive training specific to the mission until March 2007, it said. The report recommends that the Pentagon create incentives to attract the most qualified personnel for the teams.
The report includes 60 findings and 40 recommendations, many of which call for Congress to pass legislation this year mandating that the Pentagon track and provide to lawmakers a wide range of measures intended to better gauge the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.
Since May, for example, Congress has gained access to the U.S. military's progress reports on Iraqi units, known as "transition readiness assessments." But the investigation found that the assessments still focus on the number of forces trained and equipped rather than on how well they conduct operations.