Iraqis Lack Basics of Battlefield Supply

The Associated Press
Saturday, September 8, 2007; 3:39 AM

WASHINGTON -- After the end of the first Gulf War, block-lettered signs were posted in buildings at Fort Lee, Va., home to the U.S. Army's quartermaster corps. "Forget Logistics and You Lose," they read. The Iraqis have yet to learn that lesson.

It will be two years before Iraq's fighting forces are able to provide the support that combat units need to succeed on the battlefield, according to a new independent assessment.

"Logistics remains the Achilles' heel of the Iraqi ground forces," said a commission chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones.

The commission's report, released Thursday, said U.S. and coalition forces often have to make sure the Iraqis have enough fuel even though the Iraqis took over responsibility for fuel distribution months ago.

The Iraqis don't take care of their equipment _ preventive maintenance is an "alien concept," the report said. A depot in Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, is stocked with vehicles, ammunition, boots and uniforms, yet the commission heard frequently of Iraqi troops being unable to get the gear.

The 20-member commission spent nearly three weeks in Iraq.

"Every command post and headquarters the commission visited had vehicles and equipment that were inoperable _ and more often than not, the commission found that Iraqis were waiting for the coalition to take care of the problem for them," the report said.

To U.S. commanders in Iraq, the commission's findings are not surprising.

In July, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. W.E. Gaskin, leader of American forces in Anbar, said Iraq's ability to recruit and train its military have not been matched by improvements to the country's outdated network for maintaining and repairing critical war-fighting gear.

"Realistically, if things are going the way they're going now, you'd say a year from now the Iraqis training-wise would be ready to do the types of operations we expect of them," Gaskin said. "I am not as optimistic about them being able to fix the logistics system."

When Iraqi vehicles and weapons break down, handwritten repair requests are shuttled through a cumbersome and time-consuming approval process. Private Iraqi contractors are used heavily for repairs and parts.

By contrast, the American logistics system is largely automated and operated by military personnel.

The report by the Jones commission said Iraq's Ministry of Defense is planning to set up an electronic logistics system. First, however, the software has to be translated into Arabic.

Even when that system is up and running, the Iraqis will have to work around the inevitable shutdowns that will occur due to frequent electricity shortages, the commission said.

The ability to supply, feed and transport troops is a fundamental yet underappreciated necessity for any combat force. During the first Gulf War in 1991, when American forces routed Saddam Hussein's military, U.S. logisticians moved more than half a million troops and 7 million tons of supplies into the Middle East.

Gus Pagonis, the now retired Army lieutenant general who managed the buildup, likened it to moving the population of Alaska, along with their belongings, to the other side of the world.

Whenever authorities in Washington decide to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, Pagonis' successors face equally daunting challenges. A recent report by a leading military analyst estimated it would take 12 months or longer to safely withdraw the more than 160,000 American troops and their equipment.

While Iraq's logistics needs are not as great, they're no less important. Nonetheless, the Jones commission cautioned against imposing solutions that an Iraqi bureaucracy simply won't accept.

"In many cases, the 'Iraqi way,' though not always optimal, is sufficient," the report said.

© 2007 The Associated Press