Petraeus: 190,000 Lost Weapons A Clerical Error genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Find The Weapons

In a follow up to Monday's report which stated that the United States could not account for 190,000 weapons provided to Iraqi security forces, General David Petraeus told Alan Colmes of Fox News Radio that the loss resulted from inadequate accounting practices.

As I read the General's contention, it seems that the U.S. military is arguing it lacked the means to record the serial numbers during the distribution process.

"Some percentage" of weapons the U.S. military provided to the Iraqi army and Iraqi police units were not tracked by serial number because there were no procedures in place to do so within the Iraqi units, Petraeus said in an interview broadcast last night on Fox News Radio's "Alan Colmes Show."

From a practical standpoint, Petraeus added, it was more important to get the weapons to the Iraqis as they started to enter the fight against a strong insurgency than it was to keep meticulous records.

"We occasionally likened it to building the world's largest aircraft while in flight and while being shot at," the general said. "But we gradually started putting those procedures into place."

What?! You've got to be kidding. So following the invasion of Iraq, our military leaders determined that it wasn't critically important to record the serial numbers of the weapons being provided to Iraqi security forces...the same forces which have known ties to sectarian and insurgent groups, a propensity for corruption, and huge numbers of defections.

I must be missing something. We regularly hear U.S. objections to Iran providing weapons to sectarian and insurgent groups...and the media is provided with evidence (serial numbers or other identifying characteristics?) that such weapons were either manufactured in Iran or sold to Iran and then exported to Iraq...but our military didn't mind distributing nearly 200,000 weapons without so much as writing down a serial number next to the name of the Iraqi soldier who was receiving said weapon?

I may be wrong, but wouldn't having those serial numbers allow us to track the weapons that end up in the wrong hands? Wouldn't it also allow us to track down the Iraqi soldier responsible for losing or giving or selling his weapon to those who are killing U.S. soldiers? I can't be sure, but I would bet that every weapon given to a U.S. soldier is recorded...meticulously.

I have this frightening picture in my mind of box after box of deadly weapons being placed in Iraqi controlled trucks to be delivered to Iraqi security forces...and then I imagine the numerous ways that might not happen.

One, the driver, aware that the serial numbers are not being recorded, keeps some of the weapons to sell to anyone who will offer him money. Two, the weapons arrive at an Iraqi compound and an official in a position of power with ties to insurgents receives the weapons and transfers them to his allies to be used against U.S. soldiers. Three, the boxes are opened and anyone in the compound is given access to a weapon...even those who have signed up with nothing more than the intent of obtaining a weapon and then defecting.

He [Petraeus] described one case in which U.S. forces flew into the war zone of Najaf at night, their helicopters under fire, and "actually [were] kicking two battalions' worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we still could."

"That type of decision was something that we made at the time because those forces needed those weapons and that equipment," Petraeus told Colmes. "We weren't going to stay there in the dark and make guys do a serial-number inventory and sign them up, and that is what happened. We believe those weapons all certainly were given to Iraqi units."

OK, forget the boxes of weapons being loaded into trucks...we're dropping them out of aircraft to the folks lurking below. Now I don't want to downplay the difficulty of war and the occasional need to abandon protocol...but situations like this make me think of one of my dad's favorite stories. He was pulled over by the State Patrol for a burnt out light on his vehicle and the officer asked him for his drivers license.

My dad handed him his license and the officer looked it over...and then he told my dad that he should have remembered the words he'd written on the back of his license..."Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance" and perhaps he wouldn't have been so careless as to allow his driver's license to expire.

As I think about the situation described by General Petraeus, I can't help but question the degree to which this operation in Iraq has lacked an understanding of these six "P's". Time and again, the evidence suggests that the U.S. planning was sorely lacking, and not just on one occasion, but at virtually each juncture of the mission.

Another recent article gives further reason for well as support for the contention that the United States had little appreciation for the complexity of the sectarian differences and the overwhelming mistrust that exists between the various tribal groups.

ABOARD A U.S. AIR FORCE PLANE — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, returning from a four-day trip to the Middle East, offered a pessimistic view of Iraq's political progress Thursday, saying he thought that the United States had underestimated the level of distrust between the Shiite Muslim-led government and other ethnic groups.

"I just think in some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which, let's face it, is not just some kind of secondary thing," Gates said aboard his plane en route to Washington.

"The kinds of legislation they're talking about establish the framework of Iraq for the future, so it's almost like our constitutional convention. . . . And the difficulty in coming to grips with those we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago," when the Bush administration began implementing its policy of a U.S. troop buildup.

While Secretary Gates can't be blamed for the lack of planning in advance of the invasion, his remarks provide a clear understanding of the problems we're facing in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In all honesty, the depth of the animosity between the various groups should have come as no surprise. Under Hussein, the Sunni minority routinely abused the Shiite majority and we should have anticipated there would be a desire to avenge the many atrocities and a rush to amass power.

Reports that General Petraeus has had difficulty pushing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to move forward with necessary political change and compromise illuminates the depth and degree of mistrust mentioned by Secretary Gates and it should have been anticipated. It also highlights the ongoing miscalculations that seem to be the hallmark of a Bush administration which has focused far too much energy on rhetoric and far too little time on a rational and reasoned strategy for success.

In the end, the fact that so many weapons were distributed without proper planning is a further example of the failures that have undermined our efforts to bring resolution to Iraq...but it is also an alarming revelation that our carelessness may have actually endangered the lives of our American soldiers. That is inexcusable.


1 On August 9, 2007 at 9:22 AM, Rudi wrote —

A year ago the same story made the papers and blogs, only the quanity was dirrefent(around 30,000). Back then they also said no record keeping. Maybe the Iraqis can't read or use Western serial numbers, but Iranian data is in Western values, not Farsi.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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