Monday, January 17, 2011

Iraqi Security Forces Can’t Sustain Themselves

How many of these tanks and helicopters will the Iraqi military be able to maintain?

In November 2010, the Defense Department’s Inspector General released a report, “Assessment of U.S. Government Efforts to Develop the Logistics Sustainment Capability of the Iraq Security Forces.”
This was the third paper on Iraq’s attempt to build an enduring logistics system. Since the last two reports that came out in 2007 and 2008, the Inspector General found lots of progress. The Iraqi Defense, Interior, and military command have all developed some good leaders who are focusing upon sustainment of their forces. There are more classes available to Iraqis on those subjects than ever before. The problem is that the U.S. withdrawal is happening before Iraq has a working maintenance and supply system. That is threatening all of the accomplishments made in recent years.

The Inspector General found that the U.S. withdrawal is having a negative affect upon Iraq’s security forces and ministries. That begins with the number of American personnel working on logistics with the Iraqis. In September 2009 there were 659 in the country. By April 2010 that had gone down to 502, and in August there were only 300. The U.S. logistics team that worked with the Federal Police withdrew in the summer of 2010. The advisers at the Taji maintenance depot left at the end of the summer. The Americans were also working with the Iraqis to help them develop a strategic plan for logistics. The Interior Ministry has come up with a basic idea for supporting its forces, but the Defense Ministry has not. With U.S. forces drawing down, they may not be able to finish this work.

That will cause major problems down the road, because by December 2011, the date set for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq, the nation’s military and police will not be able to sustain themselves. They still have issues with planning, programming, budgeting, and execution. They will need training and support on all of those issues, probably for several more years, but that may not be available to them with the withdrawal.

The reason why Iraq is just now developing its logistics system is due to American policy. From 2003-2008 the U.S. focused upon pumping out as many soldiers and police as possible to fight the insurgency. The Americans didn’t start giving supply and maintenance serious consideration until just the last few years. When they finally did get around to the matter, the U.S. never came up with an integrated plan for how to develop those capabilities for the Iraqis. Now the U.S. is leaving, and Baghdad may not have the know how or motivation to finish the task.

That brings up one major barrier on the Iraqi side to achieving their goals; they have not shown much appreciation for the matter or how the existing system works. The Inspector General found some shocking examples. For one, Defense Ministry officials don’t know who comes up with the requirements for logistics, what the process is to make proposals, and then how to send them up the chain of command. In another case, the officer in charge of maintenance at Defense said he wasn’t consulted about parts requirements when orders were made, which led to huge waste. 80% of the repair parts on hand with the Iraqi Army didn’t go with any equipment they had. The government overall also had a bad record of assessing its needs. When it did find one, it couldn’t adequately budget or contract to meet it. Finally, the Defense and Interior Ministries tended to only plan short-term, year-to-year, rather than long-term. This has all led to a chronic shortage of equipment, weapons, and parts. An American adviser suggested that the Iraqi logistics system was broken.

In a more specific case, the Inspector General found that the Defense Ministry hardly budgets any money for sustaining the Navy. It provides no maintenance support. That meant that for the last five years the Navy has only gotten a small budget to buy parts, most of which are purchased at local markets, and are of poor quality. In one example, an Iraqi patrol boat ran aground in 2009. The sailors didn’t have the money to fix it right away, but instead had to buy the parts one by one from Iraqi suppliers. One year later the Navy still didn’t have all the necessary pieces to fix the boat.

This same experience was repeated throughout the Iraqi military. Only the equipment bought through the American Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program received maintenance packages. Those include the C-130 transport plans and the M1A1 Abrams tanks. The problem is 75-80% of the Iraqi vehicles, weapons, etc. were purchased outside of the FMS.

Overall, by the end of 2011 the Ministry of Defense will have around $10 billion worth of equipment. American advisers estimate that it will take between $300-$600 million a year to maintain them. In 2009 however, the military command only asked Baghdad for $200 million for maintenance, only got $53 million in the budget, and then spent just $16 million of that. A senior Iraqi officer told the Inspector General he didn’t think Defense had the capability to spend much more. Another logistics officer said that the result would be that the military would be short spares, maintenance capabilities, and repair parts in 2011 because it hadn’t budgeted for them.

The U.S. has been trying to help the Iraqis with the Asset Management Program software. It is the only automated system within the Iraqi military. It is supposed to keep track of parts, orders, stocks, etc. It is only as good as the information entered into it, which is a major issue. The contract for the software also expires in January 2011 and the Americans don’t know whether Baghdad will renew it.

Iraqi forces have problems with reporting overall, not just inputing data into the Management Program. Iraqi commanders regularly overstate the operational readiness of their units, especially with vehicles and weapons. Officers would routinely state that 90% of their Humvees were operational, when the true number was usually between 50-75%. That was because commanders didn’t want to send their broken equipment to workshops. Often, when they did, they never got it back. Another factor was that the Defense Ministry had a fuel quota based upon the number of vehicles on hand. If a unit turned in the broken ones, they would not get as much gas. Battalions, brigades, and divisions also didn’t list all the parts they had in stock, many of which were the wrong pieces for what they had, and they didn’t re-order after they used anything. Like the Navy, soldiers were often told to go find comparable parts at local markets, which were often low quality and broke quicker.

Maintenance depots for the Iraqi Army were found lacking as well. The Taji workshop didn’t have equipment and trained personnel for certain tasks. It received $1 million per month for refurbishing and rebuilding T-72 tanks for instance, but not one had been completed. The Al Asad and Numaniyah location commands were also not being used effectively. Al Asad had no supplies, no fuel, and its warehouse was empty. Numaniyah on the other hand, was fully stocked, but the division it was supposed to support didn’t use it because the chain of command and paper work necessary were a deterrent.

The one major positive of the report was that the Interior Ministry was farther ahead than Defense. Interior had come up with a basic maintenance doctrine. It had also improved its planning, budgeting, and strategies. It still couldn’t adequately plan and contracts for vehicle parts however.

Based upon the Inspector General’s investigation it doesn’t seem likely that the Iraqi security forces will have a workable logistics system up and running by the time U.S. troops are expected to exit the country at the end of 2011. There are too many problems within the Defense Ministry, with the supply system, reporting, and orders. To fix the problem, the Iraqi command needs to realize that logistics is the key to keeping their forces ready and operable for the long-term. The Inspector General found some dedicated officers in Baghdad working on this issue, but obviously there are not enough of them. The generals at the top have to be convinced of the importance of maintenance and supply, and then there needs to be a lot more training about how the supply, planning, and budgeting system works from the top to the bottom. The chain of command and orders also need to be changed so that commanders have incentives to send in their equipment for repairs, that they report their stocks, and that the right pieces are ordered. This will be a very long process, which the Inspector General doubts can be completed without more U.S. support. That is declining with the withdrawal however. Washington therefore needs to play its part as well by either shifting personnel to this task or finding contractors that can do the work. Otherwise the Inspector General feels that the Iraqis will never have the support necessary to finish the task. If not, much of Iraq’s current weapons and vehicles could end up on the scrap heap.


Inspector General United States Department of Defense, “Assessment of U.S. Government Efforts to Develop the Logistics Sustainment Capability of the Iraq Security Forces,” Department of Defense, 11/17/10

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