Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Failure to secure weapons in Iraq

Looting of poorly protected weapons depots in Iraq helped arm Iraqi insurgents

Introduction

In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops failed to secure weapons depots across the country, allowing Iraqis to loot vast amounts of explosives, ammunition, and weapons that were then used to fuel and supply the insurgency. Many sites around Iraq remained unsecured even three and a half years after the invasion, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “According to lessons-learned reports and senior-level DOD [Department of Defense] officials,” the GAO reported, “the widespread looting occurred because DOD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions storage sites due to several . . . planning priorities and assumptions.” Among those assumptions — which turned out to be wrong — was a belief that the Iraqi military would assist in securing these installations. The GAO also found that the Pentagon “did not have a centrally managed program for the disposition of enemy munitions until August 2003, after widespread looting had already occurred.” The sites included many well known to intelligence experts, such as the sprawling Al Qaqaa military facility south of Baghdad. The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation each stressed to Pentagon officials the need to secure these sites, but the military largely failed to address the issue. Stolen explosives traced to the looting have been used to make improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the number-one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, at least 2,145 troops have been killed by IEDs and other types of explosive devices. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but at a 2007 briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the scope of the problem. “We have destroyed several hundred thousand tons of Iraqi munitions,” he told reporters. “I mean, fundamentally, the entire country was one big ammo dump. And there were thousands of these sites… we’re doing our best to try and find them, but given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks which the military is trying to carry out there, it’s a huge task.”

Follow-up:
As of 2007, the Department of Defense still did “not appear to have conducted a theater-wide survey and assessed the risk associated with unsecured conventional munitions storage sites to U.S. forces and others,” according to the GAO. The Pentagon also had not incorporated the lessons of securing conventional weapons and ammunitions sites into its strategic planning, the GAO found.

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