BAGHDAD Ñ The U.S. military has acknowledged that hundreds of Iraqi
security troops have been killed because of the failure to provide them with
armor and communications equipment.
Officials said that despite numerous pledges, the Coalition Provisional
Authority has failed to procure a range of systems and armor allocated to
Iraqi police and security forces, who have come under daily lethal attacks
from Sunni insurgents. They said the delays have continued despite
congressional appropriation for the procurement of such equipment in late
2003. In all, Congress has allocated $3.2 billion for Iraqi security force
training and equipping.
In some cases, officials said, U.S. law, which seeks to ensure
transparency and permit foreign contractors to bid for projects, has
severely restricted the use of allocated funds. In other cases, contractors
who have won awards have been investigated for improprieties. Congress has
been investigating a series of cases in which the U.S. Army was said to have
been overcharged by contractors.
Last week, the U.S. Army canceled a $327 million award to the
Virginia-based Nour USA for the supply of military equipment to the
newly-formed battalions of the Iraqi Army. After an investigation of
complaints by Nour's competitors, the army determined that the tender
contained improprieties and decided to restart the process, Middle East Newsline reported.
"We have a lot of restrictions on the way some money can be spent, fewer
restrictions on the way other money can be spent, and we're trying our best
to kind of make those determinations all the time," Defense Department
spokesman Lawrence di Rita said.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack said Iraqi forces have been
vulnerable to attacks because they are unprotected and cannot communicate
with their commanders and headquarters. At a briefing on Wednesday, Swannack
said the military has requested body armor, communications equipment and
combat vehicles for the Iraqi police and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
"If I think about when we got here in September, I kept expecting at
that time that this equipment for the police and ICDC would arrive in
November," Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and responsible
for western Iraq, said. "November came around and I was told that it was
going to arrive in January, and now I hear it's postponed until the end of
Swannack linked the failure of the United States to provide such
equipment to the death of hundreds of Iraqi police and security officers.
The general also said Iraqi security forces do not have enough vehicles to
maintain border control, adding that sport utility vehicles [SUV] ordered
for patrols have not arrived.
"We've got, I think, in the border police somewhere around three to
five buses and only a couple small trucks, buses to move the border police
around to the various check ports of entry," Swannack said, "but nothing
really out there to go ahead and provide the reconnaissance assets and
surveillance assets along the border. That's where we have to improve."
Swannack said that as of Jan. 1 he has used his special budget, called
the Commanders Emergency Response Fund, to purchase radios, body armor and
vehicles for the Iraqi security forces. He did not say when the equipment
Officials said that as of 2004 the CPA was no longer the lead agency
responsible for the procurement of equipment for the Iraqi security forces.
They said the U.S.
Army has now been given this responsibility and now must renegotiate
contracts that were dropped by the CPA.
"You could get six of the division commanders in here, and every one
would say that they don't feel that the equipment is getting to the troops
quickly enough, because they've got very high demands on the Iraqi security
forces," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of U.S. military
operations in Iraq, said. "The acquisition of that equipment, the training
of those troops, the experience that those troops need takes time."
In Washington, David Nash, head of the Pentagon's program for the
reconstruction in Iraq, said several agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, Defense Contract Audit Agency and the CPA, were responsible to
oversee Iraqi aid. Nash, who acknowledged the complaints of military
commanders, said the Army Materiel Command was expected to again invite
companies to bid for the project to equip the Iraqi military in wake of the
cancellation of the award to Nour USA.
"We just have a process that we have to work our way through because
we've got to do this correctly in a full and open process," Nash said. "But
we are expediting where we can. And I know he's [Swannack] frustrated
because he's thinking that he's been working on this for a long time. And
we're working together to find solutions, and I think we will."