Failure to provide Iraqis needed equipment killed hundreds

Friday, March 12, 2004

BAGHDAD 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 March."

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 would arrive.

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."

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