The Pentagon cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, or about half the weapons earmarked for soldiers and police, according to a government report.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress, said in a July 31 report that 135,000 items of body armor were missing out of a total of 215,000, despite the fact that even some US soldiers lacked this life-saving equipment, particularly in the early stages of the war.
Assessing the causes of the problem, congressional investigators cited the Pentagon's inadequate accountability procedures and "the lack of a fully developed network to distribute the equipment."
The GAO said the Pentagon concurred with its findings and has begun a review to ensure full accountability for the program to train and equip Iraqi forces.
The report raised concerns that weapons provided by the US could be falling into the hands of Iraqi insurgents, just as lawmakers and policymakers in Washington await next month's report on the success of US President George W. Bush's surge strategy for stabilizing Baghdad.
One senior Pentagon official told the Washington Post some weapons probably were being used against US troops. He said an Iraqi brigade created in Fallujah disintegrated in 2004 and began fighting US soldiers.
Many in Washington view the development of effective Iraqi army and police forces as a vital step toward reducing the number of US troops in Iraq.
Congress funded the program for Iraqi security forces outside traditional security assistance programs, providing the Pentagon with a large degree of flexibility in managing the effort, the GAO said.
"Officials stated that since the funding did not go through traditional security assistance programs, the DOD [Department of Defense] accountability requirements normally applicable to these programs did not apply," the GAO report said.
Military officials in Iraq reported issuing 355,000 weapons to Iraqi security forces from June 2004 through September 2005, including 185,000 rifles and 170,000 pistols, the GAO said.
But the DOD could not account for 110,000 rifles and 80,000 pistols, the GAO said. Those sums amount to about 54 percent of the total weapons distributed to the Iraqi forces.
The GAO quoted officials as saying the agency responsible for handling weapons distribution was too short-staffed to record information on individual items given to Iraqi forces.
Accountability procedures also could not be fully implemented because of the need to equip Iraqi forces rapidly for combat operations, the GAO found.
The disclosure, made in a report released by the GAO, comes ahead of a crucial review of US military operations that may pave the way for a reassessment of the US role in the violence-ravaged country.
The top US military commander in the country, General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to report to Congress by the middle of next month on whether efforts to halt sectarian violence and return Iraq to viable self-governance were bearing fruit.
Creating efficient security forces capable of taking over counterinsurgency operation from the US has been a linchpin of this strategy.
The US has spent about US$19.2 billion since the beginning of the war to equip and train Iraqi security forces that are supposed to gradually replace US troops in providing security for the country.