General Blames Clerical Errors In the Case of Missing Arms

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bookkeeping deficiencies allowed thousands of weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 to then go missing, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday.

"Some percentage" of weapons the U.S. military provided to the Iraqi army and Iraqi police units were not tracked by serial number because there were no procedures in place to do so within the Iraqi units, Petraeus said in an interview broadcast last night on Fox News Radio's "Alan Colmes Show."

From a practical standpoint, Petraeus added, it was more important to get the weapons to the Iraqis as they started to enter the fight against a strong insurgency than it was to keep meticulous records.

"We occasionally likened it to building the world's largest aircraft while in flight and while being shot at," the general said. "But we gradually started putting those procedures into place."

A Government Accountability Office report last week found that the U.S. military has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces, and experts worry that many of those weapons could have fallen into the hands of enemies in Iraq. The report noted that 125,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 helmets also were missing from inventory records.

Petraeus, who then led the security training effort, said Iraqi units were ready to fight but did not have the equipment they needed just as Moqtada al-Sadr's influence grew in the summer of 2004. He described one case in which U.S. forces flew into the war zone of Najaf at night, their helicopters under fire, and "actually [were] kicking two battalions' worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we still could."

"That type of decision was something that we made at the time because those forces needed those weapons and that equipment," Petraeus told Colmes. "We weren't going to stay there in the dark and make guys do a serial-number inventory and sign them up, and that is what happened. We believe those weapons all certainly were given to Iraqi units."

Petraeus agreed with the GAO that U.S. controls on weapons distribution later improved.

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