Outside editorials: Taking the Pentagon to task on weapons

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007

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This editorial appeared in the Sacramento Bee:

It was bad enough that the Bush administration failed to make plans to secure or destroy conventional weapons storage sites in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

The Government Accountability Office reported in March of this year that the human, strategic and financial costs of that failure have been high. The sites have been looted by insurgents and militias. They are the main source of explosives used to construct deadly improvised explosive devices that have "killed or maimed people," and "support terrorist attacks in the region," the report found.

But as bad as all that is, things can get worse. It turns out that the Bush administration is not even keeping track of weapons that the United States itself is providing to Iraqis. The title of a July 31 report by the Government Accountability Office tells it all: "DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces."

According to the report, the military "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces." That just covers arms sent to Iraq through September of 2005. And that's not to mention unaccounted-for heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Against this backdrop, the Bush administration now wants Congress to approve dramatically increased transfers of weapons and military technology to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt and Israel. They've got to be kidding.

Missing guns are out there, somewhere

This editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The lapses and loopy predictions that framed the Iraq invasion's early days might be historical notations by now if it weren't for one thing: The president's team keeps making the same mistakes.

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office provides the latest lesson on how not to run a war or rebuild a damaged society. Don't, for example, lose track of 190,000 small firearms when ending violence is a key task.

Yet the Pentagon has failed to do the most basic accounting of weapons given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, the GAO found.

Even more disturbing is the thought of how many weapons may have ended up in the hands of militants who routinely attack U.S. troops.

The chronic bungling at the Pentagon is all the more unsettling because new military leadership is in place.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is supposed to restore competence and rationality at the Pentagon. Yet the flaws in the small arms serialization program remain, the GAO found.

Gen. David Petraeus, now the top U.S. military man in Iraq, was in charge of training Iraqi troops in 2004 and 2005.

The Defense Department has requested $2 billion in the Fiscal Year 2008 war-on-terror budget for Iraqi security forces. What a further waste it would be to give that money without improving the Pentagon's recordkeeping.

Pentagon needs to have better controls on guns

This editorial appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

It's hard enough to be a soldier in a confusing war of insurgency like the one that has evolved in Iraq. Now to discover that some of the weapons being fired at you and your comrades by Iraqi insurgents were purchased by your own government, well, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office concludes that the Pentagon has lost track of small arms given to Iraqi security forces, and assumes that some of those weapons have fallen into the wrong hands.

The Pentagon did not dispute that conclusion, telling the GAO that it has begun its own investigation and is working to tighten controls. Still, the GAO document provides another sad chapter to the Iraq war and an ironic slap at the administration that has blamed Syria and Iran for arming Iraqi insurgents.

The GAO report is testimony, really, to the hubris of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who thought that the war and aftermath could be managed with a skeleton crew. It's embarrassing, too, to Gen. David Petraeus, who was in charge of Iraqi security training in 2004 and 2005, when the weapons began to disappear, and who now commands all U.S. forces in the country.

To its credit, the Pentagon concurred with the GAO findings and promised to keep better track of its weapons. The troops in Iraq and their families at home deserve at least that much.

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