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The Associated Press September 17, 2006

Training Iraqi troops to take over logistics proves a challenge for U.S. military

By Rebecca Santana

TAJI · Iraq has one of the world's largest oil reserves, but the Iraqi army can't get enough fuel for its tanks. It also can't get spare parts for its trucks or supply ammunition on its own.

While the U.S. training program has made great progress teaching Iraqi soldiers how to fight, the force still relies on American help for distributing supplies.

"Just because you stand up all the fighters, all the combat arms organizations, they're not self-sustaining until they have some form of a logistics system," said Brig. Gen. Rebecca Halstead, commander of the 3rd Corps Support Command. "It's not there yet."

As U.S. commanders worked the past three years to build Iraqi security forces, priority went to forming combat units capable of fighting Sunni Arab insurgents.

The task of maintaining those troops was left to U.S.-led coalition forces, who got Iraqis to their missions, gave them ammunition, fed them and, in many cases, even gave them their pay.

Even in areas where Iraqis have taken over security duties, they need help getting supplies from central and regional storage centers. In volatile Anbar province, a hotbed of insurgents, it has been especially challenging for the Iraqis to keep troops supplied with food and water.

So there is now an emphasis on building an effective Iraqi logistics operation.

Of the approximately 120,000 Iraqi soldiers, about 10 to 15 percent are involved in supply-related activities, said Maj. Gerald Ostlund, a coalition spokesman.

By contrast, for every combat soldier in American and other foreign contingents, there are three in support or logistics roles, U.S. officials say.

Iraqi soldiers won't need the same ratio because they have a local economy to rely on for food, housing, equipment and repairs, unlike the Americans who need to import almost everything, said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington D.C.

Brig. Gen. Terry Wolff, commander of the Coalition Military Assistance and Training Team that is helping Iraqis build their army, said Iraq also won't need the resources for moving troops around the world.

But many Iraqi logistical units are still understaffed, Wolff said.

For example, at the Taji National Depot, a clearinghouse for supplies to units across Iraq, the goal is to have about 1,200 Iraqi soldiers working at the post 12 miles north of Baghdad, but there are only about 300.

The U.S. military uses high-tech tracking devices such as radio monitors that allow items to be followed from when they leave storage in the United States until they arrive in Iraq.

Among the Iraqis, some records are computerized, but most are kept on paper, which means supplies can easily be lost or stolen.

It's a system ripe for corruption, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Washington.

"The prevailing community standard is steal everything that isn't nailed down; and when you find something that is nailed down, to go to find a crowbar," Pike said.

Iraqi officials last year found widespread fraud and corruption under former Defense Minister Hazem Shalaan led to the disappearance of $1 billion, almost the entire budget to buy new equipment.

Col. Kenneth Kirkpatrick, who advises Iraqi supply officers at Taji, said making sure everything in the depot is accounted for is a key goal.

"I think it has been a problem," he said. "Early on, things were moving through here so fast that they were just coming in on the trucks and moving out as fast as they could. Sometimes the boxes just weren't sealed properly or containers weren't locked, and that opened it up to pilferage along the route."

The Iraqi deputy commander of the depot did not want his name used, fearing insurgents would kill him for working with the Americans, but he said shipping containers sometimes arrive without his staff having any idea what is in them.

Kirkpatrick said that is mostly the case with supplies donated by other countries.

Iraqi troops in the field say Iraqi officials in Baghdad fail to get them essentials such as fuel and spare parts for vehicles. Lt. Col. Hassan Falah, with the highway police, said only four of his 20 vehicles were working, that the others lacked parts.


Copyright 2006, The Associated Press