Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Where are my keys, and ... what did i do with the AK-47s?!

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Where are my keys, and ... what did i do with the AK-47s?! - Defense department sloppiness might have left 190,000 weapons in the hands of our enemies
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
August 8, 2007

Flabbergasted. That's how we feel about the United States' misplacement of billions of dollars in weapons meant to train Iraqi military and police.

We aren't talking lost keys, here, but assault rifles and pistols -- at least 190,000. The U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that the weapons -- mostly AK-47s and Glock pistols -- were missing during a routine audit, released a few days ago. The weapons were mislaid between 2004 and 2005, and the Pentagon says it doesn't know where they are, if they were intercepted by insurgent forces, if they're sitting in a storage facility or if Iraqi security personnel got the equipment in the first place, according to Joseph Christoff, director of the GAO's international affairs and trade office.

Could we be getting shot at by our own guns? Christoff won't say -- but it sure does make you think.

"We never got a complete answer," Christoff said. "That's what was so surprising."

Since 2003, the United States has spent $19.2 billion developing Iraqi security forces, including their army, navy, air force, police, border control officers and more. If Americans can't trust our military to keep up with this expensive, deadly equipment, how can we trust the ultimate handoff -- Iraq's security to its own military?

How could the military lose so many weapons? Bad clerical work, lack of staffing and poor attention to detail, Christoff told us by phone Tuesday. Normally "train-and-equip" programs are directed by the U.S. State Department, which administers funds and sets policies and procedures, leaving the heavy lifting to the Defense Department. In the interest of flexibility, the Defense Department and the Multinational Force-Iraq were given leeway to run things their way -- which apparently means a sketchy paper trail.

"The flexibility was at the expense of accountability," Christoff admitted.

Christoff notes that the Defense Department did some pretty decent recordkeeping when the U.S. Congress appropriated $100 million to arm Bosnia forces. But that was a process NATO tightly controlled -- no Defense Department shortcuts there.

The Defense Department is asking for more money, $2 billion, to continue arming Iraq military and police. It says it has started to shore up recordkeeping procedures, including taking an archaic spreadsheet system that reportedly takes several computer screens to view, and will create an appropriate database management system.

All this so-called flexibility makes you wonder about arming foreign countries when our own sloppiness could end up hurting us. It makes Christoff wonder, too.

"We've started a review of Afghanistan," he said.


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